Saturday, September 12, 2015

Postgame Blog: St. John's Pulls Away from Shepherd Hill

St. John's lineman Sean Ragan (77), a Boston College commit, had a day-long battle with Shepherd Hill tight end/defensive end Sean McKeon (86), who will head west to play for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan next year.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Here is your quick reminder that this blog is not a complete recap of St. John's (Shrewsbury)'s 19-8 win over Shepherd Hill. If you'd like a full story, along with some highlights and video interviews with several Pioneer stars, head over to ESPN Boston High Schools.

That being said, let's get to a few of my takeaways from the Pioneers' big win in this battle of perennial Central Mass powers.

Overcoming Mistakes

On both sides of the ball St. John's had to respond to adversity, and did so splendidly in the second half. After getting gashed by the Rams' Double-Wing offense off tackle in the first half, particularly on reverses and rocket tosses, the Pioneer defense did a much better job of setting the edge on the play side and staying at home on the backside in the second half.

It obviously helps when you have the whole offseason to prepare for Shepherd Hill's old school offense, as opposed to just one week, because it requires so much discipline and physicality to defend. The Pioneers brought the physicality all day, but the discipline was lacking on a few misdirection plays early, especially when they gave up a five-yard touchdown to Scott Ambrosia on a reverse, then gave up the exact same play seconds later on a two-point try.

St. John's, led by junior linebacker John Fields, sophomore linebacker Isaiah Keegan and senior defensive tackle Brian Abosi (a 6-foot-8 center on the Pioneer basketball team), responded with a dominant second half defensively, and proved they could defend the run against a powerful offensive line.

Offensively, St. John's was its own worst enemy in the first half. After senior quarterback Tim Cassidy found Cam Lucey for a 22-yard score, the Pioneers reached the red zone on three straight drives to end the half, but failed to come away with any points before intermission.

The first St. John's drive came to an end when Cassidy was picked off by Ram corner Josh Gelb on a jump ball. The Pioneers then failed to convert a 4th and 5 on their next trip to the red zone, followed by a botched snap inside the Ram five yard line on their next drive.

In the second half, St. John's turned to its ground game, and may have found something in running back Peter Oliver, who broke free for a 15-yard go-ahead touchdown. Then, after recovering an onside kick, Cassidy showed off his wheels, running it in to put the game out of reach.

It was far from perfect, but St. John's showed it can defeat a quality opponent, even when things aren't going perfectly.

New School vs Old School

Culture-wise, there may not be two more different teams in Central Mass. Shepherd Hill's "country strong" offensive lines have powered the Rams' brutal Double-Wing attack under coach Chris Lindstrom Sr, while coach John Andreoli has cranked up the tempo in Shrewsbury, installing an Oregon Ducks-inspired "Blur" offense. The Rams' commitment to physicality has made them consistent contenders in Division 4 Central (where they are reigning champions), while the Pioneers' commitment to speed and tempo have made them a team nobody wants to face across the state in Division 2.

The Pioneers' no-huddle attack seemed to wear on Shepherd Hill's stout defense, as yards on the ground came easier as the game played out, and on a hot day, the Rams exhausted all of their timeouts early in the fourth quarter, just to give their defense a chance to catch its collective breath.

Shepherd Hill's Double-Wing wore on St. John's early, but an inability to throw the ball with new quarterback Ryan Wong-Li, who's still getting his feet wet, allowed St. John's to crowd the line and put a defender in every gap.

Meanwhile, Shepherd Hill struggled to defend a spread St. John's offense that stretched the Rams both vertically and horizontally.

Each coach and program have won with their respective approaches, and it's clear both philosophies can field a perennial winner, but on this day, it was the "Blur" outpacing the physical Double-Wing.

Ragan vs McKeon

Massachusetts football fans were treated to a rare direct battle between Division 1 FBS recruits as St. John's senior offensive lineman Sean Ragan, a Boston College commit, had the task of blocking Shepherd Hill tight end/defensive end Sean McKeon, a Michigan commit, all day.

Tough to declare a winner in this fight, as Ragan and the Pioneers did manage to assert themselves on the ground in the second half, but McKeon was able to get home for a sack, and score another tackle for a loss. The Rams' inability to throw the ball made McKeon a non-factor offensively, but the future Wolverine still made his presence felt on defense in a battle with, perhaps, the best lineman he'll see all year.

Both players showed why they were recruited by numerous programs across the country.

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