DANVERS — If St. John’s Prep’s first play from scrimmage was any indication of how the offense would function without injured running back Johnathan Thomas, then the Eagles are going to be just fine.
Already leading, 7-0, junior Cody Harwood received the handoff and darted between the tackles, made a quick move to the outside, and rushed for a 41-yard score.
It was a welcome sight for coach Jim O’Leary, as St. John’s Prep rolled to a 55-8 victory over visiting Malden Catholic on Saturday.
Last week, the sixth-ranked Eagles (3-2, 1-0 Catholic Conference) lost to Everett, and also lost Thomas for the season when he injured his knee in the third quarter. The All-Scholastic back had season-ending surgery Friday to repair his right anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus.
“What happens is, it’s a situation where we needed to establish ourselves, get over the hump, and get back in a positive direction and we did that today,” O’Leary said.
St. John’s Prep took a 7-0 lead before the Eagles’ offense made its first appearance.
Owen Rockett returned a punt 75 yards for Prep’s initial score. For Rockett, who fumbled a punt return last week, it was a measure of redemption.
“Owen had a tough week last week, but he’s so skilled, he’s dangerous every time he touches the ball,” O’Leary said. “He’s our guy back there and we’re going to stick with him.”
In the second quarter, Michael Geaslen hit tight end Jake Burt for a 7-yard touchdown.
On the next possession, Harwood (eight carries, 164 yards) steamrolled a defender on his way to a 25-yard score and a 27-0 Eagles lead.
“It felt amazing, I’ve just been waiting for my turn and it finally came to show everyone what I can do,” Harwood said.
Before the first half expired, O’Leary turned to sophomore Dillon Preston, who ran for a 5-yard touchdown. Preston added another touchdown, a 3-yard run, on the Eagles’ opening possession of the third quarter for a 41-0 lead.
Harwood and Preston combined for 217 yards, while junior Pat MacDermott filled in at fullback for senior Greg Kobelski, who injured his shoulder in Week 3.
It was the first varsity start for all three, and O’Leary was satisfied, but not the surprised, at their success.
“No, I see it in practice all the time,” O’Leary said. “We know Dillon can come in, a little different style back so they’re a nice combination.”
The victory had significant implications for Thanksgiving.
Malden Catholic is the only Catholic Conference school that plays every conference opponent by the playoff cutoff date of Oct. 27.
Saturday’s loss means the Lancers can’t run the table and win the league outright, meaning the Thanksgiving games involving St. John’s Prep and Xaverian and BC High against Catholic Memorial will determine the conference champion.
“It’s always one of our goals, it’s one of the great Thanksgiving Day games,” O’Leary said.
“But we have two more league games before that, that are as important or more important, so we have to keep going for the playoff implications. We need to get better every week.”Monday: new Globe Top 20 and EMass scoring leaders.