AUBURN, Mass. – It wasn’t the prettiest game for the St. John’s Pioneers on Tuesday, but at this stage of the season, all that matters is “survive and advance.” And survive is what the Shrewsbury private school did in a nail-biting playoff battle against the Wachusett Mountaineers in Holden.
St. John’s held on for a 21-19 victory in the semifinal at Wachusett Regional High School. The Pioneers move on to the Super Bowl on Saturday against Leominster.
“That was a heck of football game,” said St. John’s head coach John Andreoli. “Two good teams, snow in the air, down to the last minute.
“I give them [Wachusett] a lot of credit,” he added. “They’ve really put it together well in the last part of the season, and they overcame adversity coming down the stretch. And that’s why they were here playing today and why we were here playing today.”
The game came down to a 2-point conversion attempt from Wachusett with just over one minute left. The Mountaineers had just driven 80 yards for a touchdown, with quarterback Scott Beardsley and running backs Scott Tupper and Trevor MacNeil marching down the field. Beardsley scored on a 1-yard touchdown run before the 2-point conversion attempt.
But the St. John’s defense stepped up big, stopping Tupper on the 2-point conversion and preventing Wachusett from tying it up. St. John’s recovered the onside kick and made a first down, and the game was over.
In the first possession of the game, St. John’s wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, delivering a touchdown after only two plays. On the game’s first play, quarterback Andrew Smiley connected with wide receiver Micah Cummins on a short pass that went for 30 yards after a well-executed bubble screen.
Then, star running back Shadrach Abrokwah had a 30-yard burst to take the early lead. The extra point was good, and St. John’s went ahead 7-0, only 40 seconds into the contest.
But it wasn’t all St. John’s in the first half, as Wachusett buckled down defensively to hold St. John’s in check for most of the half. The Pioneers were driving down the field at the end of the first quarter when Wachusett stopped them on fourth down in the red zone.
The Mountaineers took over and drove 80 yards, with Tupper capping off the drive with a 3-yard plunge. The extra point was good, tying the game at 7 with 7:30 left in the half.
But St. John’s responded immediately to take back the lead, 14-7. After a 45-yard sprint from Abrokwah, he followed with a 5-yard touchdown, and the extra point was good.
Wachusett then had an impressive drive to start the second half, running the ball for almost eight minutes and finishing the drive with a touchdown. Tupper ran in a 5-yard score, but the critical extra point was no good, and St. John’s stayed ahead 14-13 with 2:16 left in the third.
The final quarter kicked off with a bang, as St. John’s scored a touchdown on the quarter’s second play. Smiley found wide receiver John Giacoppe wide open across the middle, and Giacoppe cruised into the end zone for a 9-yard score. The extra point was good, and St. John’s went up 21-13.
Then all hell broke loose, as St. John’s defensive back James Andreoli intercepted a pass and ran it 65 yards to the Wachusett 5-yard line. That was followed by a Wachusett goal line stand and a missed field goal by St. John’s.
But after Wachusett drove down the field, St. John’s buckled down on the 2-point conversion and is now moving on to the Super Bowl.