St. John's Prep outpaces Acton-Boxboro

DANVERS — A buzz went through the press box in the third quarter of St. John's Prep's 55-28 win over Acton-Boxboro Friday night, and it had nothing to do with the Eagles putting the finishing touches on their trip to the Division 1 North final.

It had everything to do with what was happening in Everett, as the top-ranked Crimson Tide fell to Central Catholic.

It did not please St. John's Prep coach Brian St. Pierre that the public address announcers let the entire stadium know the Everett score before his team's game was over, but the fans overlooking Cronin Memorial Stadium's Glatz Field loved the sound of it.

As for the game they were watching, Prep's offense exploded, as junior quarterback Will Crowley completed 20-of-31 passes for 289 yards, five touchdowns, and an interception. Three of the scoring tosses went to Max Freedman, who caught nine passes for 169 yards. The two others went to Wes Rockett, who grabbed nine passes for 112 yards. Running back Trent Tully also ran for 191 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries, as the Prep (8-1) basically did whatever it wanted on that side of the ball.

"I appreciate our guy making the call in the middle of the third quarter," cracked St. Pierre sarcastically of the announcement of the Everett score. "I knew (the Colonials) were good. (They entered the game) undefeated for a reason. That's a good team. Offensively, we did a lot of good stuff."

So did A-B (8-1), which saw quarterback Finn Murray complete 16-of-31 passes for 196 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. Wide receiver Stanley Bernard caught three passes for 97 yards, including touchdowns of 53 and 41 yards in the first half.

But the Colonials were always playing catchup, down 35-21 at the half and only pulling to within two scores once in the second half, when Prep held a 41-28 lead early in the fourth quarter.

"They just spread it out and played 7-on-7, for the most part, dinking and dunking," St. Pierre said of the Colonials. "(Murray)'s a really nice player, a senior who started for three years, and he played like it. My hat's off to him. He's a good player."

And no doubt St. Pierre has a good quarterback of his own in Crowley, who found Freedman for a 34-yard score over the middle on the Prep's third play from scrimmage.

A-B tied it at 6 on its ensuing possession on Murray's 53-yard strike to Bernard, but the Prep answered with a 12-play drive that featured three completions to Rockett, and culminated in an 8-yard pass to Freedman.

Again, the Colonials bounced back, this time when Patrick Kronenwett found daylight up the middle for a 54-yard touchdown run to pull his team to within 14-13.

However, Tully followed with a 34-yard gain on his team's next play, and Crowley hit Rockett for a 23-yard touchdown to help make it 21-13 with 9:42 left in the half.

The Eagles increased that lead to 28-13 on a 70-yarder from Crowley to Freedman a little over a minute later after an A-B punt, and Tully punched in a 3-yarder with 5:15 to go in the half to help push the lead to 35-13.

Although Murray found Bernard for a 41-yard score to keep A-B within 35-21 at halftime, a spectacular catch from Rockett on an 18-yarder from Crowley in the third quarter gave the Prep a 41-21 lead.

"Matt's been strong all year," St. Pierre said of Crowley. "He's been growing in the position. You can see the physical skills. He's maturing. The reads, the overall command of everything we're doing, you're starting to see it. Just glad we've got him. We've got him for another year, too. He runs this team really well. He does a great job. He's a great leader, too."

Even when Murray hit Victor Otero for a 12-yard touchdown early in the fourth, it never truly felt like a comeback was in the works, as it only took four Tully runs, the last from 23 yards out, to make it a three-score game again.

"We wore them down in the second half," St. Pierre said. "I think our up-tempo hurt them in the first half. They were tired, but we just kept making mistakes, hurting ourselves, and we didn't make stops on defense there. We kind of kept letting them back in the game."

But now, as the No. 2 seed, the Prep will host No. 3 Central Catholic next week in a rematch of a game in Week 2 where the Eagles ran away with a 31-12 win. But Central has obviously improved since the beginning of the season, so expect a classic between two of the best programs in the state.

If Crowley continues to play like he has lately, though, the Prep has to feel good about its chances.

"I felt pretty good," Crowley said. "All credit due to the line. They gave me an hour in the pocket, and my receivers, Max and Wes, they were getting open everywhere. It was hard to miss."

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