WESTWOOD — After a year’s hiatus due to the pandemic, the Thanksgiving series between St. John’s Prep and host Xaverian returned Thursday morning.

The ensuing game was an absolute classic.

After senior quarterback Jack Perry’s fourth touchdown pass of the day, a 9-yard pass to Stephon Patrick, pulled the visiting Eagles within one with 47 seconds left, they decided to go for two points and the win. But Xaverian defensive end Matt DeFeo stripped the ball from Perry’s hand just as he was able to release a pass, saving the day for his squad in a 36-35 victory at the Hawk Bowl.

“We decided to go for the win. There was no doubt; we never hesitated,” said St. John’s Prep head coach Brian St. Pierre. “We called a sprint pass to a 3-receiver side and had guys open on the right, but (DeFeo) reached his hand up just as Jack was able to let it go and tipped it out of his hand.

“It was a fantastic game with back and forth action,” added St. Pierre. “There were a lot of people making a lot of great plays on both sides. They’re really good and I think we’re really good, and if you’re a fan of high school football and watching talented players, all of that was on display in this one.”

Perry threw for 318 yards for St. John’s Prep (8-4). He finished with single season school records of 2,596 passing yards and 34 TD passes and also ran for a touchdown. Patrick wound up catching seven passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns, including a 62-yard score earlier in the contest.

Following a Division 1 state semifinal loss to Central Catholic last weekend, sickness hit the Eagles as they were only able to practice Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for Thursday’s clash. Still, after heading into the fourth quarter down by two scores (36-22), they found a way to rally.

After punting for the third straight possession, the Prep defense made a key stop and forced the Hawks to punt. Getting the ball back, they drove 55 yards to score with a 17-yard TD toss from Perry to senior wide receiver Jackson Delaney to cut the lead in half.

After back and forth punts, St. John’s got the ball back on their own 30-yard line with 2:45 to go. The Eagles drove downfield to the 18 with help from an 11-yard sideline catch by Patrick and a 16-yard run by senior James Guy. After a defensive pass interference call moved the ball to the 9, Perry hit Patrick for the score. The ensuing 2-point try, though, didn’t work out the way the visitors had hoped.

“It was obviously a tough way to lose,” said St. Pierre, “but it was everything that high school football in Massachusetts against your rivals should be.”

Jesse Ofurie (51 yards) and Delaney (42) each had four catches for St. John’s while junior fullback Jack Fillion grabbed three passes for 44 yards, including a 6-yard scoring pass to open the scoring.

Senior quarterback Jack Gilbert had a big game for Xaverian (8-3) with 187 yards passing and one touchdown while running for another 169 yards and three scores.

“This team fought ‘til the end. I’ll never forget that about them,” St. Pierre said of his Eagles. “We were one step away from going to the Super Bowl for a third straight time last week and got our hearts ripped out. But in true champion fashion, they showed up big today.

“I loved coaching this team. They gave me everything myself and the staff ever asked of them — and we ask a lot. The seniors are a special group; they know how much they mean to me. It was a privilege to coach this team. It’s why I do it and why my coaches do it.”

Executive Sports Editor Phil Stacey contributed to this report.

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