By Hector Longo
---- — LOWELL — Despite Andover High dictating pace for most of a scoreless first half, Massachusetts high school football’s ultimate brawler, St. John’s Prep, never stopped punching.
All those body shots took their toll in the second half as Prep junior sensation Jon Thomas finally found some room here on the Cawley Stadium turf.
“Jonny Rockets” zoomed through a second-half for the ages, chewing up 184 yards and scoring all three TDs on 20 carries, lifting the Prep to a 21-0 Eastern Mass. Division 1 semifinal win over the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 1 champions.
Thomas finished his night early with 28 carried for 209 yards, adding a pair of catches for 24 yards. He accounted for all but 69 of the Prep’s 302 yards.
“They had nine people in the box, sometimes 10, and we’re still pounding it at them,” said Prep coach Jim O’Leary. “He just had to get it through that first level, and he was gone.”
St. John’s will now face Brockton for the EMass. Division 1 title Saturday, most likely at Bentley University.
Andover clearly had the better of it in the first half, outgaining St. John’s, 136-70, and making a pair of trips into the red zone.
But a missed field goal (wide left from 29) and a 4th-and-1 failure from the Eagles’ 5, was all that Andover could muster.
“The missed opportunities hurt,” said Andover coach E.J. Perry, who has now coached Andover to a pair of MVC titles in the last three years, falling twice in this game. “We needed to do a better job of taking advantage.”
The 0-0 tie at the break was a new lease on life for the Catholic Conference champs.
Andover junior Jack Sylvester burst a big one on the first play from scrimmage after halftime, a 64-yard dash from the 18 to the 18. But the Prep defense slammed the door shut there, forcing another field goal miss (from 31) and holding the Warriors to 50 yards and two turnovers over the next 14 Andover plays.
“That’s what we do,” said O’Leary, lauding the effort to hold the high-flying Warriors scoreless for the first time since a 21-0 loss in this same game to Everett back in 2010.
“We’re going to keep playing defense. We’re going to get a turnover (actually two in the second half), and eventually we’re going to break one, because we’re pounding it pretty good. It’s hard to keep (us) down.”
Meanwhile, Thomas, who already has Division 1-AA offers, simply wore Andover out, with TD runs of 1, 19 and 48 yards.
The kid was everywhere. Up 7-0 with the Prep facing a 3rd-and-4, he leaped into the picture for a 19-yard finger-tip catch to move the chains early on the Prep’s second TD march. With Andover’s light still flickering but facing a 4th-and-4 at midfield, it was Thomas closing fast on Andover quarterback C.J. Scarpa, swooping in to force a turnover on downs.
“He might be a better defender,” said O’Leary. “We just don’t use him that much.”
Scarpa, who finished with an area record 32 TD passes this fall, was forced to check down all night with the Prep loading up with 6 or often 7 in coverage at all times.
The senior was 16 of 27 for 165 yards, throwing intereceptions 6 and 7 of the season.
Classmate Will Heikkinen caught 7 balls for 88 yards, making it 67 for 1,126 in an impeccable year. And Sylvester reminded the 2,000 or so fans gathered that all will not be lost at graduation. The junior finished with 15 carries for 146 yards, chipping in five catches for 37 yards.
St. John’s 21, Andover 0
EMass. Division 1 Semifinals
St. John’s Prep (10-1): 0 0 7 14 — 21
Andover (10-2): 0 0 0 0 — 0
Jon Thomas 1 run (Steven Camarro kick) 3:31
Thomas 19 run (Camarro kick) 7:12
Thomas 48 run (Camarro kick) 4:48
RUSHING: Andover — Jack Sylvester 15-146, C.J. Scarpa 7-10; SJP — Jon Thomas 28-209, Alex Moore 7-16, Jack Sharrio 1-6, Ian Kessel 4-23
PASSING: Andover — Scarpa 16-27-2, 165; SJP — Sharrio 4-8-1, 48, Mike Geaslen 0-1-0, 0
RECEIVING: Andover — Sylvester 5-37, Will Heikkinen 7-88, Cam Farnham 2-10, Zach Walker 2-30; SJP — Moore 1-13, Thomas 2-24, Zach Burt 1-11