DANVERS — High school football teams in Massachusetts don’t beat Catholic Memorial. They especially don’t do so if their leading rusher goes out with an injury on the his first carry, never to return. Nor do they do so when committing three turnovers, use a freshman lineman making his first-ever varsity start, and play in a game-long downpour.
But Cam LaGrassa and the St. John’s Prep Eagles did all of those things on Homecoming Saturday — and they left Glatz Field not only victorious, but as the dominant team.
LaGrassa ran for a career high 254 yards and a touchdown while the Prep’s line owned both sides of the football in a 19-8 victory over the Knights.
“Our line on both sides of the ball dominated the game,” said head coach St. Pierre, his top ranked team now 7-0 and winners of 14 straight dating back to last season, the best mark in Massachusetts.
“When we play them, you’re going to find out who’s the tougher team, who’s the more physical team. I think that’s what happened today.”
It was the first time a Bay State team had defeated CM in 28 contests, dating back to St. John’s win in the 2019 Division 1 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.
A bruising senior back with acceleration and the ability to break tackles, LaGrassa generally splits carries with classmate Dylan Aliberti out of the Prep backfield, with power back Jimmy Nardone (43 yards on 10 carries) mixed it out of team’s BFT package.
But when Aliberti hopped off the field following an 11-yard carry on his first attempt, LaGrassa knew he’d be getting his number called with much more frequently.
He wound up with 25 carries, four which went for 18 yards or more as he ripped through the Knights. The biggest was a 75-yard touchdown run on an isolation play in the third quarter, an electric rumble that gave St. John’s a 16-0 lead.
“When Dylan went down it was unexpected,” said LaGrassa, “but we had to be ready to step up.”
“Cam was awesome,” added Nardone. “He’s just a great player, runs really hard and knows how to find the end zone.”
With two starting cornerbacks out, Owen White filled in and make a number of big pass breakups for St. John’s Prep. Captain Matt Callahan, whom St. Pierre calls “one of the best linebackers in the state”, played out of position with teammate Jackson Tucker injured the last few weeks and produced some audible takedowns of CM ballcarriers.
“We’ve got guys out (injured) everywhere, but guys just kept stepping up,” said St. Pierre. “The physical and mental toughness of this group was really on display today.”
Perhaps the most noteworthy was a freshman, 6-foot-3, 336-pound Cayden Blanchette. Stepping in for an injured teammate to start at right guard, the 14-year-old excelled with fellow trenchmates Alex Cianciaruso at center, Jack DiFilippo and Graham Roberts at the tackles, Braden Hughes at left guard, and tight ends Mason McSweeney, Josh Haarmann and Will Kent, to own the line.
Catholic Memorial (4-2) coach John DiBiaso credited the Eagles’ players and coaching staff for their performance Saturday, saying his own team should’ve taken advantage of the two interceptions they had as well as a fumble recovery, but couldn’t.
“It’s always good to get a slice of humble pie,” said DiBiaso.
Scoreless at halftime, the Eagles were intent on coming out and making a statement in the third quarter. They did so by getting a 43-yard run by LaGrassa to begin their drive and culminated in when Merrick Barlow won a 1-on-1 matchup with a one-handed fingertip catch on 4th-and-19, hauling on Deacon Robillard’s pass for a 31-yard score. Nardone’s 2-point rush made it 8-0.
Following a CM punt (they had 5 on the day, perhaps more than they had all season against in-state foes), LaGrassa ripped off his 75-yard scoring jaunt behind key blocks from fullback Gael Garcia and Kent, the tight end.
“With our packages and our physicality, I thought we took over the game in the third quarter,” admitted St. Pierre.
Catholic Memorial cut their deficit in half on the very next play when quarterback Peter Bourque (201 yards passing) hit a streaking Isaiah Faublas for an 80-yard touchdown, then successfully threw for the 2-point conversion.
But their last three offensive drives ended in a punt and two turnovers on downs, and the Eagles sandwiched the game away on Langdon Laws’ 21-yard field goal with just 1:44 to go. That final Prep drive, which took 12 plays (all on the ground), chewed 8 minutes and 48 seconds of valuable time off the clock.
“They run they’ve been on is a testament to their coaching staff and kids. I have a lot of respect for them,” St. Pierre said of the Knights.
“But I’m happy we bookended that streak, though.”
St. John’s Prep 19, Catholic Memorial 8
at Glatz Field, Danvers
Catholic Memorial (4-2);0;0;8;0;8
St. John’s Prep (7-0);0;0;16;3;19
SJP — Merrick Barlow 31 pass from Deacon Robillard (Jimmy Nardone rush)
SJP — Cam LaGrassa 75 run (Nardone rush)
CM — Isaiah Faublas 80 pass from Peter Bourque (Michael Hegarty pass from Bourque)
SJP — Langdon Laws 21 field goal
RUSHING: Catholic Memorial — Zach Brown 2-19, Lasean Sharp 7-17, Adoni Gillis 2-6, Peter Bourque 2-6, Chris Sanchez 3-6; St. John’s Prep — Cam LaGrassa 25-254, Jimmy Nardone 13-41, Dylan Aliberti 1-11, Deacon Robillard 1-(-1).
PASSING: Catholic Memorial — Bourque 12-33-201-1-0; St. John’s Prep — Robillard 5-10-51-1-2.
RECEIVING: Catholic Memorial — Isaiah Faublas 2-109, Caleb Garrity 6-66, George Mather 3-21, Thomas Kuefler 1-5; St. John’s Prep — Merrick Barlow 2-33, Pierson Scala 3-18.