St. Mary’s, St. John’s hope for a super saturday
A pair of area high school football teams will compete for their respective state championships Saturday at Gillette Stadium. St. Mary's will clash against Blackstone Valley in the Division 7 Super Bowl (11) while St. John's Prep has a rematch with Catholic Memorial in the Division 1 Super Bowl (8).
The Spartans (8-4) hope to shake last Wednesday's 60-0 loss to Fenwick in the annual Thanksgiving game between the Catholic Central League rivals. St. Mary's is making its first Gillette appearance since losing the Division 3A Super Bowl to East Bridgewater in 2016.
Offensively, the Spartans are a run-first team. Jalen Echevarria, a basketball star in his first season on the gridiron, leads the team in carries (138), rushing yards (1,194) and touchdowns (16), while averaging 8.65 yards per carry. George Freeman (721 yards, four touchdowns) and Connor Donohue (374 yards, five touchdowns) have also contributed to the ground game.
"We control time of possession and the line of scrimmage by running the ball," Driscoll said.
"We'll throw the ball a little bit. Controlling the line of scrimmage, I think, will be huge for us."
Quarterback Derek O'Leary hasn't thrown the ball much but has made big plays when needed. O'Leary has tossed seven touchdown passes and thrown for 608 yards this season.
Echevarria leads the team in receiving yards (337 yards) and touchdown receptions (five), while Eni Falayi has caught eight passes for 110 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively, Matthias Haley leads the Spartans in tackles (63). Freeman has tallied 54 tackles and three sacks. Mark Niboh leads the team in interceptions (3).
St. Mary's defense limited Cohasset to just three points in the state semifinal before the Skippers found the end zone on a touchdown pass in the closing minutes for the 22-11 final.
"The turning point in that game was holding them for a field goal inside the 10," Driscoll said. "I think our speed really showed that day. I think our defense has really improved all year. We've come a long way there."
The 11 a.m. kickoff is an aspect of the game the Spartans aren't accustomed to. Driscoll said he's scheduled a few early morning practices in an attempt to get his players familiarized with playing in the morning.
"We haven't played much in the morning," Driscoll said. "The Thanksgiving game being changed to (last) Wednesday night (originally scheduled for last Thursday morning) didn't hurt or help either way. We've done some stuff logistically to try to help us adjust to the timing. At the end of the day you have to get ready to play for the Super Bowl."
Driscoll and the Spartans have enjoyed their last week of practice together.
"It's great to practice the week after Thanksgiving," Driscoll said. "You develop bonds with these guys. I'm fortunate enough to have another week with these guys. You have to realize that it's your last week and some of these guys will end their careers at Gillette stadium. On the other hand it's kind of sad. We've come a long way but these guys have peaked at the right time. It's made it more exciting."
St. John's is making its first Super Bowl appearance since defeating Brockton in 2012. The Eagles (9-2) are also eager to bounce back from a loss last Wednesday when they fell to Xaverian, 14-12, at Fenway Park.
The Eagles met Catholic Conference rival Catholic Memorial in Week 5 and brought home a 27-20 win. But St. John's coach Brian St. Pierre said the win has no impact on what could happen Saturday.
"We played Catholic Memorial in mid-October so that's about two months ago," St. Pierre said. "There's so much that changes, injuries, who's playing, who's not playing, younger guys who are more experienced. I don't put a ton of stock in it. We're conference rivals. There aren't a lot of unknowns going into it. It comes down to who plays better Saturday."
Offensively, St. John's is led by quarterback Wes Rockett, running back Trent Tully and receivers Max Freedman and Wes Rockett.
James Taylor, the Catholic Conference Defensive Lineman of the Year, anchors the defense with linebackers Pat Keefe and James Hanley.
St. Pierre said his Eagles, nursing a few injuries, have shown their excitement in practice this week.
"They're excited, as they should be," St. Pierre said. "We're banged up. We have some kids injured, some kids sick. We'd like to be healthier but the guys that are going to play will need to step up. They're excited about the opportunity. It's something we've worked really hard to get to. We want to finish it the right way."