Sunday, November 24, 2013

Postgame Blog: St. John's Stuns Springfield Central

Drew Smiley hauls in a one-handed interception to clinch the game for St. John's.
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

Here is your reminder that this blog is simply a collection of my wandering thoughts. For a complete write up, my buddy Brendan Hall has you covered over at ESPN Boston. If you'd like to see my highlights, those are on ESPN Boston as well, and here's a link for you lazy folks out there.

Now, let's get into what was a HUGE win for the St. John's football program.

Not Perfect, But Good Enough

Many thought the Pioneers would have to play a flawless game to knock off supremely talented Springfield Central, but that would prove not to be the case. From my point of view, that's a good thing. The Pioneers fumbled twice on offense, losing one, and muffed a punt that Central recovered.

Despite all this, the Pioneers were able to knock off, arguably, the hottest team in the state. Like last week against Leominster, St. John's showed it can play with anybody, even if it makes a few mistakes. Coach John Andreoli said as much in his postgame remarks to his team.

"Champions overcome mistakes," Andreoli said. "You didn't dwell on the mistakes, you came back and made plays."

Sweet Redemption

No player atoned for a mistake in a bigger way than junior running back Shane Combs. The Notre Dame baseball commit had a solid day on the ground, rushing for 137 yards and 3 TDs, but also coughed the ball up twice, the second time leading to a recovery by Central and go-ahead Golden Eagles touchdown.

On the Pioneers' last chance drive, Combs converted a third and seven on the ground, then ran it in from 15 yards out for the eventual game winner. Combs is a guy that has simply gotten better every game out for the Pioneers, and is a physical runner that seems to become more effective as the game wears on. He made his mistakes, but he also provided a huge lift to the Pioneers in the running and passing game.

Jones' Big Day

It was a career day for junior WR/S Davon Jones, who hauled in 8 passes for 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while also registering 8 tackles and an interception on defense. It was the kind of game people around the St. John's program have been waiting for from the extremely gifted athlete, and he put it all together at the best possible time.

Three times Jones beat single coverage by simply out-jumping the defender, including both touchdowns, and his undercutting of Central star receiver Ju'an Williams' deep post route saved a touchdown the other way.

There's been a lot of talk about Jones' potential over the last year and a half, but Saturday it was all about the player he is now. A true impact performer, on both sides of the ball.

Smiley's Case for Mr. Football

After the game, ESPN Boston High School Sports Editor Brendan Hall said, in this video, that QB Drew Smiley has to be in the conversation for Mr. Football now. Well, it's certainly hard to argue with that, after Smiley torched Leominster and Central in back-to-back weeks on offense, and came up with huge plays in his new role as a safety as well.

As if over 330 yards of total offense weren't enough, Smiley also snatched a one-handed interception on the goal line to seal the game for the Pioneers. Up until last week, my vote for Mr. Football would have gone to Leominster's Neil O'Connor, but it's just impossible to deny what Smiley has done in the biggest moments of the biggest games.

He can all but lock down the award by beating Mansfield in the D2 Super Bowl.

The Road Ahead

Well, this is where the new playoff system makes things interesting. The Pioneers battle a very talented St. Peter-Marian team on Thanksgiving, but you have to wonder how much, if at all, the stars will play. The game against the Guardians effectively means nothing, and with the Super Bowl at Gillette looming on December 7th, it's hard to see Andreoli allowing Smiley, Jones, Michael McGillicuddy and Co. to do much on Turkey Day.

Still, Andreoli did stress the importance of that game, reminding his players that it is the oldest Catholic School rivalry in the state, and urging them to play at a championship level Thursday. Whether or not all of them will play remains to be seen, but the Pioneers know they've punched their ticket to Gillette for the inaugural D2 State Championship game nine days later.

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