Saturday, October 7, 2017

Postgame Blog: St. John's (S) Pulls Away from Shrewsbury

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

In a game that featured plenty of highlights, the St. John's Pioneers made just enough plays to come away with a road win against cross-town rival Shrewsbury.

The 46-35 St. John's victory makes the Pioneers (5-0) the unquestioned top dog in Central Mass for the moment, and a heavy favorite to make it to Gillette Stadium in Division 3. But, it wasn't all about the Pioneers, as Shrewsbury (4-1) acquitted itself quite well, and showed why it might be the team in D3 Central that can give St. John's the best run in the playoffs.

Here are a few takeaways. Click here for photos and video highlights.

Winning Time

Yes, St. John's ended up winning by two scores, but Shrewsbury had the ball with first and goal at the Pioneers four yard line, with a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately for the Colonials, the St. John's pass rush heated up, forcing an intentional grounding call on Shrewsbury quarterback Drew Campanale, which pushed the ball outside of the 10. On the following play, Owen Ryan intercepted a desperation Campanale heave on fourth and goal, maintaining the Pioneer lead, and setting up a 45-yard game-sealing touchdown run by Eamonn Dennis moments later.

Many will look at this game and say that the Pioneer defense looked vulnerable, and they wouldn't be totally wrong. But, every time St. John's really needed a stop to hang on, the Pioneers got one. With Ryan and corner Andrew DelBrocco leading an opportunistic secondary, plus senior Liam Doran at linebacker and Hunter Gorgas at defensive end, St. John's stepped up in the game's biggest moments.

"On defense, we started a little slow," Doran said. "But we stepped up and made some big plays at the end. They kept going for it on fourth down, and I thought we did a great job on third and fourth down in the second half."

An Unstoppable Offense

But make no mistake about it, this St. John's offense is otherworldly. Senior quarterback Steven Bucciaglia threw for 415 yards and three touchdowns, while running for another to continue his hot start. In fact, hot start might be an understatement for Bucciaglia, who is currently on pace to re-write the Central Mass and Massachusetts overall passing record books.

While Bucciaglia has been on top of his game, it hasn't hurt that he has some of the best weapons in the state at his disposal. Senior receiver Coleman Drugotch made a plethora of big plays, including a circus catch for a touchdown in the second half down the left side that helped extend the Pioneer lead to two scores.

Drugotch finished with over 150 yards and two touchdowns receiving.

"We've been practicing (together) since day one of freshman year," Drugotch said of his connection with Bucciaglia. "Steve throws a great ball. He's a great quarterback, and I love catching from him."

On the underclassmen side, sophomore Eamonn Dennis continued to impress as well. After Shrewsbury scored to take a 21-14 lead, and snag the momentum, Dennis took it right back with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Dennis didn't even field the kick cleanly, bobbling it at first, but it didn't matter. This kid can fly, and he found a seam to explode through for the score.

The touchdown came at a rare time when the St. John's passing game was struggling, and re-energized the Pioneer sideline. Dennis would later score a touchdown to seal the game, and made a deep catch when St. John's faced fourth down and was hoping to run the clock out.

Basically, if you get Dennis in space, he's impossible to stop. Think of him as a CMass Percy Harvin (the college Harvin who tore up the SEC, not the injury-prone NFL version). Coach John Andreoli has many clever ways to get Dennis the ball in his "Blur" offense, as well as on special teams, and all of them are scary.

Colonials Can Hold Their Heads High

I don't want to put too fine a point on it, but Shrewsbury was out-manned. At nearly every position, St. John's was bigger, and in some cases, much bigger, than the Colonials. Still, this squad hung in there, and found ways to make plays against a team that many people think can win a state championship.

Give major props to the Colonials' offensive and defensive lines, who gave up height and weight to St. John's across the board, but were able to battle the Pioneers to a virtual stalemate for most of the night. That toughness will make Shrewsbury an interesting challenger, should they face St. John's in the Division 3 Central playoffs, but the difference could be the Colonials' two stars.

Quarterback Drew Campanale and athlete Chris Campbell were nothing short of fantastic tonight, with Campanale making a ton of plays on the run, as he threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns, along with a rushing score, while Campbell caught a touchdown, caught a 2-point try, and threw a pass that set up first and goal on a halfback pass.

Oh yeah, and the versatile senior also played a heck of a game at defensive back.

"We hope so," Campbell said of the possibility of seeing St. John's in the postseason. "They're the best competition we've played so far, so we're just gonna work hard and hope we see them again in the playoffs."

Shrewsbury just doesn't have the Pioneers' depth right now, few teams do. But, if these two teams meet again in the playoffs, the Campanale-Campbell duo gives the Colonials, perhaps, the best shot of anybody to knock St. John's out before Gillette.

An Electric Atmosphere

The Battle of the Bury lived up to the billing on the field, but both school communities also brought it in the stands. Shrewsbury's student section was packed to the brim, and the St. John's Superfans also brought their A-game. On a somewhat related note, I couldn't find parking, and the Shrewsbury Student Council was struggling to direct all the hundreds of cars to off-campus locations where they could park.

Basically, the place was packed.

I heard rumors that there were around 6,000 people in attendance, but I honestly have no idea if that's true, and it doesn't really matter. This is one of those games, and one of those atmospheres, where every time you tell the story, the crowd gets larger. By 2030, we're gonna be telling our kids that there were 25,000 screaming fans in the stands, and you know what? At times it felt like that.

This was an awesome, playoff like, environment, and both student/alumni bases should feel great about the tone they set for this game. For his part, Campbell said he felt like players on both sides fed off that energy.

"It's great to play in a game like this, where you look up and pretty much see the whole school in the stands," Campbell said. "(St. John's) had their whole fan section, and it definitely makes everyone play better. That's why the game was so great. I think everyone rose to the occasion."

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