Saturday, October 28, 2017

St. John's (Shrewsbury) Sneaks By Marlboro

By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

SHREWSBURY - Say what you want, but this was the type of game St. John's (Shrewsbury) needed to experience before it hit the postseason running.

All throughout the regular season, the Pioneers have barely been tested, averaging just over 50 points per game. For some of them, the basic thinking was that things were coming way too easy. But now, St. John's might alter its attitude some, knowing it cannot simply waltz through the playoffs and expect a free ride to Gillette Stadium for the Division 3 Super Bowl.

Thanks to a solid fight put forth by Marlborough, the Pioneers now realize they can be vulnerable too. The Panthers gave St. John's everything they handle for four quarters, before finally succumbing 24-21 Saturday at Pioneer Field.

If anything was learned from this tilt, the Pioneers understand that they can no longer take anything for granted, as Marlborough exposed several flaws within St. John's (8-0) arsenal that need to be corrected before the postseason starts up next weekend.

"It's always this way against that team," said Pioneers head coach John Andreoli. "They are a tough team and are very well-coached. Today wasn't pretty but it is still a win. I really feel that we needed a game like this to show that every game from here on out is going to be 44 minutes. We cannot afford to waste possessions or make mistakes."

Showing steady grit throughout, the Panthers (6-2) were able to remain within striking distance all afternoon long _ not letting this one ever get out of hand like so many of St. John's previous opponents have done.

"I thought our kids played great today," Marlborough head coach Sean Mahoney said. "We wanted to slow them down and we did a good job. Our kids battled and I'm very proud of them. We did what we wanted to do which was keep the ball away from their offense for the most-part. St. John's is a very-talented team but I felt we went toe-to-toe with them. A loss is something you never want but in regards to the way our kids played today, this is definitely a positive."

The Pioneers did manage to build a 24-7 lead early in early in the fourth quarter before Marlborough stormed back with a pair of scores only to see time run out on them.

St. John's quarterback Steven Bucciaglia played admirably, completing 13 of 24 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns. He was also picked off once. The Pionees running game, which has been a major benefactor throughout the year, was stymied by a staunch Marlborough defense for the most part, as they were held collectively to a combined 101 yards.

Finishing with 326 yards of offense, St. John's jumped out to a 10-0 halftime lead on a 25 yard Nick Palermo field goal and a 21 yard touchdown pass from Bucciaglia to Hunter Gorgas with four seconds remaining before halftime. But the offense, unlike previous outings, had trouble finding its rhythm.

"Marlborough played great," Bucciaglia said. "Our coaches were able to put together a great game plan to help me see my way out of a few things. A game like this showed us what adversity is all about and how we respond to it. We haven't really dealt with that much adversity this season so a game like this certainly will prepare us. I thought we could have done a better job but overall I'm proud of my team to get this win."

In spite of the 10-point lead, the Pioneers knew it was anything but safe. However, Marlborough's offense did not make much of a dent during the opening half, as a pair of turnovers snuffed out would-be drives. Beginning the second half, St. John's got the ball and proceeded to drive 64 yards before Bucciaglia found Coleman Drugotch for a 20 yard scoring completion. The march was set up by a well-executed screen pass to Colin Deso accumulating 27 yards.

On the Panthers' ensuing possession, their leading rusher Devin Raun (52 yards on 13 carries) suffered an ankle injury. The senior was helped off the field and did not return. Marlborough then turned to junior Lou Vigeant to pick up the slack. Two consecutive running plays netted Vigeant 11 yards before he hauled in a 29 yard pass reception which helped move the ball to the Pioneers' 13. Converted wide receiver turned quarterback Kevin Short then connected with James Carney in the end zone to put the Panthers (291 yards) on the board with 2:42 left in the quarter, down 17-7.

Marlborough then recovered an onside kick but could not sustain a drive after Short was intercepted by Owen Ryan.

Starting the fourth, St. John's stuck to its script by sustaining a drive to keep the Panthers now resurgent offense off of the field. Aided by a Deso 34 yard catch and a pass interference penalty, the Pioneers were able to convert a 21-play, 81 yard march finished off by Zach Pedone's 13 yard scoring grab over the middle to increase its lead to 24-7 with 4:21 to go.

Getting the ball back, the Panthers needed just one play to draw closer after junior back Brandon Cavicchio busted loose for a 61 yard scoring run. Following a quick four-and-out by the Pioneers, Marlborough got the ball back on the Pioneers' 39. Working it way to the 2 yard line, Evan Doherty capped the drive by plowing over the goal line to make it a three point game with 13 seconds to go.

The Panthers, once again, recovered the onside kick on the St. John's 49 but could not succeed in their attempts to pull out a last second miracle.

"A good coach like Sean, which he is, had a heck of a game plan today," Andreoli said. "I give his kids a lot of credit for hanging in there right to the very end."

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