FOXBORO — This season, the highest MIAA division became a war of attrition. Top players from the best teams fell by the wayside to injury at a high rate, and no team went unbeaten.
Perhaps, then, it is fitting that St. John's Prep won Saturday night's title over Catholic Memorial, 40-22, riding the playmaking abilities of two players who have seen the fair share of time on the injured reserve over the past two seasons.
Wide receiver Wes Rockett, who missed 2017 with a torn meniscus, and running back Aise Pream, who missed much of this fall with a high right ankle sprain, showed out all night. Rockett caught nine passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns, while Pream carried the ball 21 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns.
It marked the first time St. John's Prep (10-2) has won a Super Bowl in the current playoff format, which tests a team's depth more than the former one.
"When we were fully healthy, we were a handful. I know that," St. Pierre said. "But we were never fully healthy."
It was a familiar refrain on the other sideline.
"We had a lot of guys banged up," said Catholic Memorial coach John DiBiaso, whose team finished 9-3. "We were at the hospital with two guys last night. We don't know if they had food poisoning or whatever. They both played the whole game. They played their hearts out."
The game turned late in the third quarter with CM holding a 22-19 lead. Facing a fourth and 1 from their own 30-yard line, the Knights ran a direct snap to Owen McGowan on a fake punt. He came up just short, and the Prep took advantage. Junior quarterback Matt Crowley (11-of-27 for 218 yards) found Rockett from 21 yards out in the back corner of the end zone, where the receiver made a spectacular touchdown catch to help give his team a 26-22 lead.
The fourth quarter was all Prep. Pream shuffled through a hole on the left side for a 5-yard score with 5:22 to play, and Crowley hit Rockett on a seam route for a 26-yard touchdown with 2:31 to go to help complete the scoring.
"It was great having me and Wes playing both healthy again," Pream said. "We saw what we did. We just came out and played, and that's what we should have done every game this year, and that's what we have done."
St. Pierre put it simply as to how Pream and others were able to fight through the adversity they faced in that respect.
"Football players. (Pream)'s a football player," St. Pierre said. "That's what we are. That's what we do. He wouldn't change anything right now. He's probably not going to walk right for another month or so. We love him. Aise's as tough as they come. He's had a great career."
The Eagles looked like they were going to run away with it early on, jumping out to a 16-0 advantage off touchdowns from Pream on a 6-yard run and Rockett on a 52-yard catch to go along with a 35-yard Sean Majewski field goal.
But CM quarterback Barrett Pratt hit Dan Lopes for a 23-yard touchdown, and a 47-yard fumble recovery returned for a score by Devon Williams pulled the Knights to within 16-14.
Majewski booted a 27-yard field goal with 2:57 left in the half to give his team a 19-14 edge at the break, but CM rallied.
Pratt hit McGowan on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 5:36 to go in the third as the Knights grabbed their first and only lead of the game. But momentum swung back in Prep's favor after the fake punt, and it never went back to the Knights.
Despite the loss, with a talented group of underclassmen, the Knights will be heard from again.
"We've got some good guys coming up, and we've got some good, young kids in the freshman class and in the middle school," DiBiaso said. "Hopefully, we'll be back. We're very, very proud of them. It was a nice night. You work so hard, as I told them, you put so many hours in, and it stinks when you come up a little short. But, it is what it is. It's a life lesson."