LOWELL — Central Catholic waited a long time — two months — to get another crack at the St. John’s Prep’s football team after a devastating Week 2 loss.
On Friday, with a trip to the state title on the line, the Raiders wasted no time showing the Eagles they were a very different team this time around.
Central exploded for three touchdowns in the second quarter en route to a 35-12 victory in the Division 1 state semifinals final at Cawley Stadium in Lowell.
Central will face off with Springfield Central for the Division 1 state championship after its Thanksgiving Day battle with Lawrence High at Veterans Stadium.
It is the Raiders first state title game since 2015.
“It’s a good feeling to be going back to the state title game,” said Adamopoulos. “It’s been a while, but the kids worked hard to get a second chance. Our defense is a lot better now than it was at the beginning of the season.”
St. John’s Prep (8-3) got on the board first on a nine play 98-yard drive, ending when Jack Perry, son of former Andover High quarterback Tim Perry, found Jessie Ofurie for an 8-yard TD reception.
The Raiders answered on their next possession with Matthias Latham blasting in from 1-yard out for a touchdown, and Mike Ryan booted the extra point for a 7-6 lead in the first minute of the second quarter. They never looked back, scoring on their next two possessions to take a 21-6 halftime lead.
Ty Cannistraro intercepted a Perry pass at midfield, and eight plays later the Raiders increased the lead to 14-6 on an Ayden Pereira 23-yard pass to Matthias Latham in the right corner of the end zone.
“Pereira is their best player, and he touches the ball every play,” said Prep coach Brian St. Pierre of the University of Maine QB recruit. “We had a good start, but we didn’t get the stops we needed. We didn’t play well in any phase of the game. Central Catholic had a lot riding on this game and came ready to play.”
The first time these two teams met the Eagles won, 49-14 behind six TD’s by Perry and three touchdown receptions for Jackson Delaney. This time after the first period it was all No. 2 seed Central Catholic, and they took advantage of every mistake the No. 3 Prep made.
One of the turning points in the game came late in the second quarter when St. John’s went for it on fourth-and-three at their own 45. The pass was incomplete, and it took five plays for the Raiders to score again on a 3-yard run by Pereira.
“I probably should have punted there, but I thought we could get a first down,” said St. Pierre. “I trust my defense and thought we could get a stop if we didn’t make it, but we didn’t.”
On the opening drive of the third quarter Pereira threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Justice McGrail for a commanding 28-6 edge. Another interception by Kolten Williams set up the fourth TD with Pereira crashing into the end zone from 5 yards out as the wheels fell off the wagon for SJP.
“Pereira did a nice job, Latham ran hard, and our offensive line has improved a lot since we faced them before,” said a happy Adamopoulos, who was congratulated by fans and players as the celebration spilled from the stands onto the field after the victory. “They scored first, but we answered right back.”
Former Andover High quarterback Victor Harrington took over late for St. John’s Prep late in the game and rifled a 42-yard pass to Ofurie who fought off tackles with great second effort to get into the end zone.
Adamopoulos threw accolades at a lot of people on Friday night, including his offensive line.
“Our offensive line has shown a lot of improvement this year,” said Adamopoulos. “We’re not running the ball great, but we’re running it better than we have been. and a big difference between this game and the last time we played is our line back Ayden (Pereira) a lot more time. and he’s tough when he has time to throw.”
Central Catholic 35, St. John’s Prep 12
St. John’s Prep (8-3): 6 0 0 6 — 12
Central Catholic (10-1): 0 21 7 7 — 35
DIVISION 1 STATE SEMIFINAL First Quarter
SJP — Jesse Ofurie 8 pass from Jack Perry (kick blocked)
CC — Matthias Latham 1 run (Mike Ryan kick)
CC — Latham 23 pass frin Ayden Pereira (Ryan kick)
CC — Pereira 3 run (Ryan kick)
CC — Justice McGrail 13 pass from Pereira (Ryan kick)
CC — Pereira 5 run (Ryan kick)
SJP — Ofurie 42 pass from Victor Harrington (pass failed)
RUSHING: St. John’s Prep — Carson Browne 18-109, Victor Harrington 3-6, Jack Perry 1-(-17), Central Catholic — Ayden Pereira 18-129, Matthias Latham 10-66, Natel Achuo 4-17, Markys Bridgewater 1-2
PASSING: St. John’s Prep — Jack Perry 7-18-92-0-3, Victor Harrington 2-50-1-0; Central Catholic — Ayden Pereira 7-15-120
RECEIVING: St. John’s Prep — Jackson Delaney 4-76, Jesse Ofurie 2-50, Stephon Patrick 3-15; Central Catholic — Matthias Latham 3-73, Justice McGrail 2-40, Preston Zinter 1-4, Markys Bridgewater 1-3