SJ Prep 42, CM 29

Eagles soar over the Knights

By Michael Grossi
Globe Correspondent / October 31, 2010

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DANVERS — Leading, 29-16, with three minutes left in yesterday’s Catholic Conference collision with Catholic Memorial, St. John’s Prep appeared poised for a victory.

However, the Eagles (5-3, 1-0) needed some timely defensive plays to hold off a late surge by the scrappy Knights and pull out the 42-29 win.

“We hung in and found a way to, well, kind of screw it up and still win the game,’’ said St. John’s Prep coach Jim O’Leary. “This is basically the playoffs right now for us and if we lost we would have been in deep trouble.’’

Over a wild final 1:30 of the game, the teams combined to score 26 points. Catholic Memorial (5-2, 1-1) got the explosion going after recovering a fumble.

AJ Doyle (200 yards passing) threw an 8-yard strike to Brandon Hamel with 1:24 remaining, shrinking the Eagles’ lead to 29-22.

On the ensuing kickoff, Tom Byrne executed a perfect onside kick that bounced high in the air. Josh Charles recovered and the Knights were in business.

But, on a third down play, Alex Moore intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown, pushing St. John’s Prep’s lead to 36-22.

Catholic Memorial’s Armani Reeves (121 yards rushing and receiving) went 86 yards on the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown with 20.8 seconds left. Byrne’s kick cut the deficit to 36-29.

“My assistant coach, Mike Barbati, wanted to squib the kick but I am a stubborn old guy and wanted to make them go a longer way for a score,’’ said O’Leary.

Catholic Memorial still had three timeouts to work with and forced St. John’s Prep to punt with 7 seconds left.

A Music City Miracle wasn’t in the cards, however, as the Eagles’ Pat Shunney scooped up a fumble and rumbled 25 yards for the final score.

For the first three and a half quarters of the game, defense and the running of Tyler Coppola powered the Eagles.

The defense was downright Patriot-like, allowing Catholic Memorial to enter the Eagles territory four times but holding the Knights to three Byrne field goals.

“The defense was the most clutch part of the game,’’ said Coppola. If those three field goals were touchdowns we would have lost the game.’’

The Eagles’ offense was firmly hitched to the legs of Coppola. The senior rushed for 246 of his team’s 350 yards and two touchdowns. Prep didn’t record any passing yards in the game.

“This is a great feeling,’’ said Coppola. “It got kind of scary at the end but we wanted to win this game more than anything. This was the last game on our home field for the seniors.’’