LAWRENCE — Since Matt Horgan joined the Central Catholic football program three seasons ago, there is little he has not seen or experienced.
He watched the Raiders win a Division 1 state title and help them to another state final appearance and a trio of Merrimack Valley Conference Division 1 crowns.
But the one accomplishment has eluded Horgan and the rest of the players on the Central roster — a victory over rival St. John’s Prep.
Since the start of the 2013 season, the Raiders are 0-4 against the Prep, including a loss in the 2014 playoffs. They are 31-1 in all other contests in that span — with their lone loss in the 2015 Division 1 title game to another Catholic Conference powerhouse Xaverian.
Central Catholic will look to snap that streak on Saturday, when the Raiders travel to Danvers for a 7 p.m. kickoff in search of their first win over St. John’s since 2011. Both teams enter the game 1-0.
And finally healthy after two tough seasons, Horgan has every intention of helping his Raiders end that skid.
“It would mean everything for us to finally beat St. John’s,” said the 5-9, 175-pound Horgan. “It would mean so much to coach (Chuck) Adamopoulos and the entire team. It’s been a tough run against the Prep. But I love our chances this season.”
After a serious knee injury cost him his entire sophomore season, then plagued him throughout his entire junior season and eventually required surgery, Horgan is finally full strength and is opening eyes at safety for the Raiders.
“He’s had to work very hard to come back from his injury,” said Adamopoulos. “I could always tell he was frustrated, but he always kept a great attitude. Now he’s back starting, looks like his old self and played a terrific first game.”
Growing up in West Newbury, playing alongside recent Penn State football commit Pat Freiermuth and Eagle-Tribune All-Star Liam Sheehy, Horgan originally planned to play at Pentucket. But his father encouraged him to look at private schools.
The Horgan family chose Central Catholic, and as a freshman Horgan watched from the stands at Gillette Stadium as the Raiders beat Xaverian for the Division 1 state title.
As a sophomore, Horgan was poised to earn playing time in the defensive backfield and was a favorite for backup quarterback, until the final scrimmage of the preseason.
“We were playing Mansfield and Matt ran a QB power,” said Adamopoulos. “He should have cut inside, but he cut outside and blew out his knee. It was tough to see.”
Horgan had suffered a dislocated kneecap and torn medial patellofemoral ligament (MPFL) in his right knee and was done for the season.
“It was a lot of pain at first,” he said. “Missing all that time really made me appreciate the game. A lot of kids dread going to practice, but I don’t anymore. I love every minute of it. I love the practice, the lifting, the film, everything.”
Doctors said the injury would heal through physical therapy and surgery was unnecessary. But when Horgan returned for his junior season for the Raiders, he could tell his knee was not right.
“My knee never felt stable,” he said. “As the season went on, it only hurt worse. I wanted to stick out the season because I didn’t want to leave the team and I didn’t want to seem like a complainer. But it was very tough.”
Horgan saw time as a nickel last fall. Three days after the season, he underwent surgery to repair his knee.
He then went to work rehabbing, and by the time preseason opened this fall, he finally felt 100 percent again.
Horgan then earned a starting job as safety, alongside Bryant University commit David Onyemem.
“I am so happy to be healthy again,” said Horgan. “I finally started to regain my confidence as a player. I wanted to show everyone that I could work myself back into form and I could be myself again. I love coming up and support the run and making tackles. I love making the calls for pass coverage. I just love playing and being involved in the game.”
And his biggest goal at the moment, earn the first Raiders victory over the Prep since the 7-6 overtime thriller in 2011.
“We have had a lot of trouble against them,” said Horgan. “Coach A says we haven’t won at the Prep since 1998. But we want to snap that streak and get a win. We almost had them last year, but couldn’t finish (two fourth quarter Prep touchdowns). But we learned a lot and I think we can do it.”
Reach sportswriter/videographer David Willis on Twitter at @DWillisET