DANVERS — The state’s top ranked football team completed just three passes Friday night, gave up more than 400 yards through the air and, for the first time all season, found themselves trailing at halftime.
But thanks to a completely dominant performance over the final two quarters, they put up a season high for points, remained unbeaten and are moving on to the state semifinals.
After hurting themselves multiple times with mental and physical mistakes in the opening two stanzas, St. John’s Prep proved to be near unstoppable in the second half, scoring five touchdowns and a field goal en route to a 56-34 shootout win over BC High in the Division 1 state quarterfinals on a cold night at Glatz Field.
The Eagles (now 10-0) scored on all six of their second half possessions, starting with a 50-yard touchdown run from Cam LaGrassa on the first play of the third quarter and never letting up. They rolled up 241 yards of offense over those final 24 minutes while averaging nearly 10 yards per play.
A tired BC High offense simply had no answer for the onslaught they were hit with.
“Our program is about strength of character,” head coach Brian St. Pierre said, “and I thought our kids show that. It didn’t feel good in the first half; there were a lot of self-inflicted errors, a lot of missed assignments … we just didn’t play well. That being said, it was only four points (for a halftime deficit, 22-18). I was very proud of their response.”
St. John’s Prep, now averaging 39.4 points per game, now returns to the state semifinals, where they face No. 4 Andover (9-1) next Friday night (date and time TBA). The Eagles toppled the Golden Warriors a year ago en route to winning their third Division 1 state title since 2019.
Although giving up five passing touchdowns, including a 96-yarder, and 412 yards through the air by three different BC High (6-4) quarterbacks (including 297 from Liam Kellen), the Prep did, in fact, make a number of big defensive plays. They recorded five quarterback sacks, had some key pass breakups, and a number of big sticks in short yardage situations.
There was also a fumble caused by senior linebacker and captain John Droggitis off a blitz, with teammate Grayson Ambrosh picking it up and flying 87 yards down the left sidelines for a touchdown.
“I didn’t even know I made a play until I got up and saw Grayson running the other way with it,” Droggitis said.
So while they trailed, 22-18, at the break after an admittedly poor opening half, there was no yelling and screaming in the home team’s locker room. St. Pierre said he was “matter of fact” when addressing his team.
“It was more about the corrections we had to make and that we had to put forward a better effort,” he said. “Defensively, that (first half) was as poor as we played. But it was the leaders who stepped up and changed that: the Mason McSweeneys and the Matt Callahans and John Droggotises and Marquise Averys; those guys stepped up when we really needed them to.”
“It was quiet in there,” Droggitis said, “but we all knew what needed to be done.”
BC High decided to go for it on 4th-and-4 from its own 24-yard line following the LaGrassa score, but their pass attempt fell short. Langdon Laws then blasted the second of his two field goals on the night, this one a 26-yarder, to put the Prep up six (28-22).
“Interesting choice,” said St. Pierre of BC High’s decision.
From there, the hosts just kept scoring and scoring. A 36-yard run by Jimmy Nardone on the next series set up fullback Gael Garcia’s 3-yard TD burst, and Nardone’s 2-point rush made it 36-22 after three quarters.
“Gael’s a heavy dude, and I mean that as a compliment,” said St. Pierre. “He puts his pads on you and you’re going backwards. There isn’t a better fullback in the state … and it’s not close.”
In the fourth, St. John’s Prep used a short field to its advantage as Robillard ran a bootleg left for a 25-yard score.
“It was a fake to Cam where I was rolling out left, and Mason (McSweeney’s) guy was a little bit on his back,” Robillard, who is a perfect 17-0 as a starting QB, said. “So he threw a great block and sprung me.”
By the time backup running back Jeff Quigley shot the gap on his team’s next offensive series for a 9-yard score, the Eagles were in full command, 50-22.
Quigley broke free for a 49-yard touchdown late with the other Prep backups in. That trip to the end zone was sandwiched around two late BC High scores, including one on the game’s final play after they called a time out with six seconds left.
Other defenders such as defensive end Anthony Carusi, Anthony Bechalany (stepping in at cornerback), and Andrew Heffernan stuffing the run all helped key the second half surge.
“We have very, very competitive, tough guys,” said St. Pierre, who noted that the “BC High kids played hard.”
“We’re not star-laden … but we have a lot of tough guys. It’s about the team here, and these guys compete. They compete their butts off, and it’s a privilege to have guys like that.”
St. John’s Prep 56, BC High 34
at Glatz Field, Danvers
BC High (6-4);14;8;0;12;34
St. John’s Prep (10-0);15;3;18;20;56
BCH — Marshall Rice 19 pass from Kise Flannery (Rice pass from Liam Kallen)
SJP — Grayson Ambrosh 87 fumble return (Jimmy Nardone rush)
BCH — Rice 63 pass from Kallen (rush failed)
SJP — Jack Angelopolus 50 pass from Deacon Robillard (Langdon Laws kick)
SJP — Laws 32 field goal
BCH — Jacob Bierenbroodspot 96 pass from Kallen (Flannery rush)
SJP — Cam LaGrassa 50 run (Laws kick)
SJP — Laws 26 field goal
SJP — Gael Garcia 3 run (Nardone rush)
SJP — Deacon Robillard 25 run (Laws kick)
SJP — Jeff Quigley 9 run (Laws kick)
BCH — Rice 5 pass from Carter Carroll (kick failed)
SJP — Quigley 49 run (took a knee)
BCH — Kallen 10 pass from Flannery (no conversion attempted)
RUSHING: BC High — Kise Flannery 5-21, Brenden Ryan 3-1, Jackson Richard 1-1, Jacob Bierenbroodspot 3-(-8), Liam Kellen 5-(-17); Name xx-xx, ; St. John’s Prep — Cam LaGrassa 18-109, Jeff Quigley 5-66, Jimmy Nardone 11-61, Deacon Robillard 5-36, Gael Garcia 5-23.
PASSING: BC High — Kellen 14-19-297-2-1, Carter Caroll 7-12-74-1-0, Flannery 2-2-38-2-0; St. John’s Prep — Robillard 3-7-53-1-0.
RECEIVING: BC High — Marshall Rice 7-126, Bierenbroodspot 3-122, Kellen 6-75, Gavin Barth 3-36, Conrad Babka 2-22, Ryan 2-21; St. John’s Prep — Jack Angelopolus 1-50, Gavin Gold 1-7, LaGrassa 1-3.