FOXBOROUGH — The first offense to blink in the MIAA Division 3 Super Bowl seemed destined to go home disappointed.
St. John’s of Shrewsbury and North Attleborough traded touchdowns on the first five possessions Friday night at Gillette Stadium.
Leading, 28-20, late in the third quarter, St. John’s faced a third and 12 deep in its own territory, but executed a perfect play call as quarterback Steven Bucciaglia found sophomore wide receiver John Brunelle for a 74-yard touchdown strike, paving the way to a 35-33 victory and the school’s first Super Bowl title since 2010.
“That was the play of the game to be honest,” said Bucciaglia.
“[The Red Rocketeers] were in zero coverage, playing man to man, and they were sending the house. John [Brunelle] did a great job getting open and that made the throw easy for me.”
St. John’s (13-0) forced the first punt of the contest early in the third quarter and quickly capitalized with a three-play, 43-yard scoring drive, capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass from Bucciaglia to Eamonn Dennis, opening 20-14 lead.
“When you get a stop and score in a game with 10-minute quarters, that can make all the difference,” said St. John’s coach John Andreoli.
Winners of 11 straight coming into this contest, North (11-2) responded with a 3-yard touchdown run by senior Brendan McHugh, who compiled 81 scrimmage yards and three scores.
Defensively, North seemed poised to snare the momentum after forcing an incompletion and a 2-yard loss to back up the Pioneers at their 24-yard line, but as he has all season, Bucciaglia came through.
“It felt like the momentum had started to swing,” said North coach Don Johnson. “We had them back on their heels a little bit, but that’s what great teams can do. They can come up with that one big play in a crucial situation.”
Bucciaglia, who had 224 passing yards and three touchdowns, finished the season with 45 touchdown passes and 3,092 passing yards, both Central Mass. records. With 588 points, St. John’s came up just shy of the all-time record for points in a season, set by the great Everett team that outscored opponents, 600-0, in 1914.
“They were what we were afraid we were going to face,” Johnson said of the Pioneers. “We just couldn’t get that one stop that we needed. We’ve faced a lot of great teams during this run, but unfortunately we faced the best tonight. They were the real deal.”
Yet the Red Rocketeers competed down to the final whistle, as McHugh caught an 18-yard touchdown halfway through the fourth quarter to make it a 35-26 game. The 2-point conversion attempt failed to preserve a two-score lead for St. John’s.
Johnson’s team finally earned a defensive stop when St. John’s turned it over on downs in its own territory, and North quarterback Chad Peterson hit Nathan Pearce for a 14-yard score to make it 35-33 with 30 seconds remaining, but St. John’s recovered the ensuing onside kick to clinch a state title.
St. John’s Shrewsbury 35, North Attleborough 33
at Gillette Stadium
N. Attleborough (11-2)
St. John’s (S) (13-0)
SJ — Coleman Drugotch 10 pass from Steven Bucciaglia ( kick)
NA — Zach Demattio 3 pass from Chad Peterson (kick)
SJ — Colin Deso 4 run (kick)
NA — Brendan McHugh 10 run (kick)
SJ — Peter Oliver 3 run (kick failed)
SJ — Eamonn Dennis 15 pass from Steven Bucciaglia (kick)
NA — Brendan McHugh 3 run (kick failed)
SJ — Jay Brunelle 74 pass from Steven Bucciaglia (run)
NA — Brendan McHugh 15 pass from Nicholas Raneri (pass failed)
NA — Nathan Pearce 14 pass from Chad Peterson (kick)
RUSHING — NA, Brendan McHugh 13-52, Nicholas Raneri 8-31, Chad Peterson 2-6, Nathan Pearce 1-2; SJ, Colin Deso 5-75, Dan Byers 6-31, Steven Bucciaglia 3-27, Peter Oliver 5-23, Eamonn Dennis 3-17
PASSING — NA, Chad Peterson 20-30—218, Nicholas Raneri 2-4—24; SJ, Steven Bucciaglia 17-22—224
RECEIVING — NA, Marion Bresko 3-42, Devin Slaney 6-39, Nolan Buckley 1-13, Ryan Gaumond 1-9, Nicholas Raneri 2-9, Ryan Clemente 1-6, Zach Demattio 1-3; SJ, Jay Brunelle 3-90, Mark Cheffers 4-43, Coleman Drugotch 3-34, Zach Pedone 3-33, Josh Shrestha 1-13Nate Weitzer can be reached at email@example.com.