Friday, December 1, 2017

St. John's (Shrewsbury) Hangs on for D3 State Championship Against North Attleboro

By Jake Levin (@JakeLevin09)

FOXBOROUGH - No huddle, no problem.

The St. John’s (Shrewsbury) Pioneers ran their high octane no-huddle offense to near perfection, which was just enough to outlast the North Attleboro Red Rocketeers, 35-33, to claim the Division 3 State Championship on Friday night.

The game had a distinctly Big 12 feel, particularly early on when the teams traded touchdowns throughout the first half. In the end, St. John’s kept its tempo up longer than North Attleboro, delivering the school its first Super Bowl title since 2010, and first championship in the new state-wide tournament.

“That’s part of our game plan, we try to call things at the line of scrimmage and [quarterback] Steven [Bucciaglia] does a great job of checking out of things based on the defense that he sees,” Pioneers head coach John Andreoli said of his team’s no-huddle scheme. “If you’ve got guys playing both ways, running sideline to sideline, it can get tiresome. That’s part of the spread offense. But [offensive coordinator Chris] Moriarty does a great job of staying two plays ahead. He sets things up and he and Steven are in such good sync that it’s productive.”

Bucciaglia completed 17 of his 22 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns and was at his best when it mattered most; the senior was 4 for 4 on third downs, all of his completions enough for first down yardage.

It was a third down conversion late in the third quarter that truly stood out for Bucciaglia, a play that wound up giving St. John’s a stranglehold on the game it wouldn’t relinquish.

The Pioneers held a 28-20 lead with 2:43 to go in the third quarter but began the drive at their own 18-yard line, their worst starting field position of the game. The first play from scrimmage, a completion from Bucciaglia to Mark Cheffers, was enough for a first down, but the next two plays had St. John’s moving back towards their own end zone.

On third-and-12, Bucciaglia faced pressure from his right side, one of only a few instances of North Attleboro blitzing in the game. Unfazed, Bucciaglia was able to get rid of the ball quickly enough to deliver a perfect strike to John Brunelle up the seam for a 74-yard touchdown pass that gave the Pioneers a 35-20 lead.

“They were in zero-coverage man-to-man, and they were sending the house,” Bucciaglia recalled after the game. “I pointed out the coverage before, I pointed out the blitz, and our offensive line did a great job. [Brunelle] did a great job getting open on it.”

“It’s just film study,” Andreoli said. “It’s knowing what our capabilities are and what the rotation is of the safeties. Our receivers do a great job of adjusting their routes to get to the place where they need to be.”

Excluding a one-play series to run out the clock in the first half, St. John’s scored touchdowns on five of its first six possessions. Bucciaglia had his choice of receivers in the passing game and any number of running backs to hand the ball off to for big chunks of yardage at a time, all behind an offensive line that kept him upright the entire game.

“Our offensive line is unbelievable,” Bucciaglia said after the game. “They’re the backbone of our team, they gave me time to throw, they opened up holes for the running game…they’re the best in the state.”

The Pioneers ran for 174 yards on the ground on 22 carries, good enough for a robust 7.9 yards per carry. That change of pace just may well have been the difference in the game, as North struggled to find consistency on the ground over the course of the game. The Red Rocketeers compiled 100 yards on the ground on 28 carries, or 3.6 yards per carry.

Colin Deso had 75 yards and a touchdown on the ground to lead St. John’s; Brendan McHugh had 52 yards and two touchdowns carrying the ball for North. McHugh also had a third score through the air.

“They were the real deal,” Red Rocketeers head coach Don Johnson said of the Pioneers. “They were what we were afraid we were going to face. They looked great on film and we just couldn’t get that one big stop that we needed earlier in the game.”

St. John’s never trailed against North, receiving the opening kickoff and driving 70 yards on eight plays to take a 7-0 lead on a Bucciaglia 10-yard pass to Coleman Drugotch.

The Red Rocketeers were quick in their response, engineering an eight-play drive of their own that was capped off with a Chad Peterson 3-yard touchdown pass to Zach DiMattio on third-and-goal to pull even with the Pioneers.

Peterson was 25-for-34 passing for 242 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort for North.

Deso’s 4-yard touchdown run put St. John’s ahead on its next possession, only to be matched once again by McHugh’s first touchdown on the ground from 9 yards out. Peter Oliver put the Pioneers back on top yet again – this time for good – on a 3-yard touchdown run that finished off a 14-play drive, the longest of the game in terms of plays run for either team.

The Red Rocketeers turned the ball over on downs on their final possession of the first half, the first defensive stop of the game for either team. St. John’s led at the half, 20-14.

After North went three-and-out to open the first half, Eamonn Dennis had a 15-yard touchdown run to give St. John’s a 28-14 edge. McHugh struck back for North with his second score of the game, only for the 74-yard backbreaking pass from Bucciaglia to come four plays later.

Trailing 35-20 early in the fourth quarter, the Red Rocketeers ran a trick play to try and keep pace. On third-and-8 from the St. John’s 19, Peterson threw a backwards pass to Nicholas Raneri, who appeared primed to take off and run.

Instead, Raneri stopped short of the line of scrimmage and threw a forward pass to McHugh, who came down with the ball in the end zone to again slice into the Pioneer lead. Down nine points, North opted to go for a two-point conversion. Once that failed, all of the momentum shifted squarely back to the St. John’s sideline for good, as the Pioneers had a two-score lead and the ball with 6:38 left in regulation.

North would score once more, on a Nathan Pearce 14-yard touchdown reception, but the ensuing on-sides kick failed. Bucciaglia took a knee, running out the clock on St. John’s title.

“It’s everything we worked for since freshmen year,” Bucciaglia said. “We wanted to cement our legacy and that’s what we did tonight.”

No comments :