Johnson fires on all cylinders for Spartans

Calvin Johnson and the Spartans are No. 1 in Division 7. (Item File Photo)

LYNN — Coming into the new football season, St. Mary’s Calvin Johnson has been on the minds of many North Shore football fans as a player to watch. After a special season in 2016 as a running back, Johnson is now taking the snaps for St. Mary’s, and even though he’s at a new position, he showed Friday night that he’s picking up just where he left off.

The Spartans scored early and often en route to a 54-21 win over Saugus to open the season Friday at Manning Field. Johnson had a hand in everything, throwing for a touchdown, running for another, and intercepting Sachems quarterback Mike Mabee for a 77-yard pick-six. He also added three conversion passes and a conversion rush, as the Spartans converted the two-point play all but once on the night.

“A year ago, Calvin was an outstanding running back, and this year he’s at quarterback and he’s made a great transition,” St. Mary’s coach Matt Durgin said. “Not only did he run well, he threw the ball well too. The kids did a nice job catching it too. Everyone did well, but we have a lot of work to do, but for the first time out, things went pretty well.”

The Spartans jumped out to the early advantage as James Brumfield found the end zone on a 33-yard run. Four plays into Saugus’ first offensive drive of the season, Johnson made the first of St. Mary’s four interceptions and ran it back to make it 16-0 Spartans early.

St. Mary’s wasn’t letting off the gas yet, though. It took Johnson and company just four plays, after forcing Saugus to go three and out, to find the end zone again. This time Johnson connected with Brumfield on a short pass, with Brumfield taking it 40 yards to the house. It was 24-0 St. Mary’s with 4:33 to play in the first.

Just when the Sachems began to find their rhythm, the Spartans seized momentum back. Mabee led Saugus down to St. Mary’s 34 yard-line, connecting four times with his favorite target of the evening, sophomore Christian Correia. But the St. Mary’s defense came up with another interception, with Lee Pacheco snatching a pass. Johnson got across midfield with a 30-yard keeper, and connected with Patrick Henry for a 23-yard gain. Marlon Scott took it the final two yards to make it 32-0 after Johnson hooked up with Henry for the conversion.

On the next drive, Mabee led a 59-yard march to the end zone that was capped by James Moise’s 10-yard touchdown run. The good feelings for Saugus didn’t last long, though; Johnson found Scott for a 60-yard touchdown reception just two plays later, and the Spartans extended their lead to 40-7.

Saugus responded with another fruitful drive, which started with a big run from junior Dante McGrane. Mabee found Correia with a four-yard touchdown pass to cut into the lead at 40-14.

Johnson capped his impressive night with a 63-yard touchdown run. He was replaced by Derek O’Leary in the second half.

The Spartans logged their third interception of the night on Saugus’ final drive of the half, as Scott picked off Mabee at Saugus’ own 43, and St. Mary’s held a commanding 48-14 lead at the half.

Both offenses were relatively quiet in the second half. Saugus marched down the field in the first drive after the break, but Pacheco logged his second interception, this time in St. Mary’s end zone. O’Leary and the Spartans marched deliberately up the field, capping a 90-yard drive with a seven-yard scoring run from junior Mark Niboh.

Saugus found the end zone once more on its final drive, with Marvens Jean taking it in from 11 yards out.

The loss wasn’t necessarily the result new head coach Anthony Nalen was looking for in his first game with the Sachems, but he said that the game allowed his team to learn some things about itself.

“I thought we competed for four quarters and showed some good things that we can look at on film, we just have to be more technically sound, the mistakes and breakdowns really hurt us tonight,” Nalen said.  “It was kind of tough seeing St. Mary’s on the schedule as the first game, being my first game here at Saugus, but it let us see where we are and where we need to get to. It was a good test for us, they’re a great team and we know what we need to work on now.”

St. Mary’s will head to Framingham State next Friday night to take on Marian/Keefe, while Saugus hosts North Quincy next Saturday.

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