Saturday, September 9, 2017

St. John's (Shrewsbury) Dominates Catholic Memorial in Statement Win

St. John's receiver Eamonn Dennis breaks free of a Catholic Memorial defender in the Pioneers' dominating win Friday night.
By Brendan Hall (@BHallESPN)

WEST ROXBURY – Like a lot of teams, St. John’s is apt to defer on the coin toss, preferring to get the ball on the first possession of the second half. But, if it’s any indicator of how confident the Pioneers’ coaching staff is in its blossoming young kick returner, associate head coach and offensive coordinator Chris Moriarty opted to take the ball – and put it right in the youngster’s hands.

And boy, did Eamonn Dennis reward the coaches for their faith. On a beautiful night under the lights at Cassidy Field, the sophomore’s star shone among the brightest, taking the opening kickoff 96 yards to the house as part of an explosive start that saw the Pioneers lead Catholic Memorial by two scores just 90 seconds in. St. John’s never looked back from those opening minutes, rolling to a 33-3 win over the Knights.

“I just told myself, I’m going to score on this first play,” said Dennis, who’s clocked as fast as 11.3 seconds in the 100-meter dash during track and field season. “The blocking was really good on that play. Coach called return middle, and I did what I had to do.”

Pioneers head coach John Andreoli called Moriarty’s decision “a great call on his part.”

“He [Dennis] is pretty electric, and usually we like to defer,” Andreoli said. “But having a guy like that back there and opening the game with something electric like that is a great advantage for us. He stepped up and got it done.”

Elsewhere, the Pioneers couldn’t have asked for a better night out of senior quarterback Steven Bucciaglia (11 of 19, 252 yards, 4 TD), who completed several long catch-and-run’s. Twice, Pioneer receivers crossed the face of a defensive back on a vertical route from the slot for a touchdown. Four of his 11 completions went for 34 yards or more, including three scores that totaled 146 yards.

“We have great receivers, great backs, and a great O-line,” Bucciaglia said. “I don’t think I really got hit tonight, so I was able to sit back and let the receivers do their job.”

The Pioneers couldn’t have asked for a better sequence of good breaks to start this contest. It started with the game’s opening kickoff, when Dennis collected the ball at his own four yard line and sprinted straight up through the right hash unscathed, slipping out of the grasp of one last tackler at the Knights 20 for a score just 15 seconds in. A jump pass to a wide-open Hunter Gorgas on the two-point attempt was negated by an ineligible receiver penalty, for a 6-0 advantage.

CM muffed its ensuing kickoff for starting position deep in their own territory, then fumbled the ball away inside its own 40, recovered by Ben Burton, for a second Pioneer possession just a minute into the game. St. John’s needed just two plays to make the Knights pay, with Bucciaglia finding senior receiver Coleman Drugotch on an out-and-up at the first-down marker for a 34-yard catch-and-run score.

Dennis found the end zone a second time in the second quarter, this time crossing a defensive back’s face on the right hash for a wide-open 34-yard touchdown off a skinny post, giving St. John’s an 18-0 lead. The Knights got a few points back just before the close of the first half, via a 25-yard Will Fay field goal with 40 seconds to go.

But whatever moment CM seized with that final drive of the first half quickly evaporated. The Knights ran into more trouble on their first possession of the second half, fumbling away another rushing attempt that St. John’s Isaiah Keegan landed on at the Knights’ 47.

The Pioneers needed just five plays to turn another turnover into points. Bucciaglia scrambled for a first down, then fired three straight completions, the final one a 15-yard strike to Liam Doran under the goal posts to make it 26-3 after a successful two-point pass.

St. John’s needed just one play on its next drive, after a CM three-and-out, to put this game virtually out of reach. Bucciaglia connected with Oliver on a swing pass at the left sideline, and the senior tailback put the burners on for a 78-yard completion and Bucciaglia’s fourth touchdown pass of the night, for a 33-3 advantage.

Defensively, the Pioneers forced seven three-and-outs, scoring three touchdowns off of those plays. While Hunter Gorgas garnered plenty of attention off the edge with his 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame and overwhelming brute strength, the back seven was dishing out plenty of physical play defending the pass, particularly in linebacker Mike Bernard and safety Jameson Carroll.

“Stop and scores are always a huge thing for us,” Andreoli said. “We have that as a goal for us every game, and that was pretty evident tonight.”


SJ – Eamonn Dennis 96 kickoff return (pass failed) 10:46

SJ – Coleman Drugotch 34 pass from Steven Bucciaglia (rush failed) 9:29

Second Quarter

– Dennis 34 pass from Bucciaglia (pass failed) 4:47

CM – Will Fay 25 field goal :40

Third Quarter

SJ – Liam Doran 15 pass from Bucciaglia (Zach Pedone pass from Bucciaglia) 8:35

– Peter Oliver 78 pass from Bucciaglia (Nick Palermo kick) 6:23

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