LOWELL – From a 35-point loss early in the season to a 23-point win against the same St. John’s Prep team in the Division 1 semifinals, the Central Catholic football team showcased its growth on Friday night
In front of a packed house at Cawley Stadium, the Raiders took control in the first half and cruised to a 35-12 victory over Prep, which had defeated Central in five straight meetings, including consecutive wins in the Division 1 North final in 2018 and 2019, and a 49-14 drubbing in Week 3 this season.
“It seems like a long time ago, that game,” Central coach Chuck Adamopoulos said. “We got buried the first time. [The Eagles] took us behind the woodshed and gave us a whacking. So it’s sweeter, just because of how far the kids came since that first game. We talked back then that we wanted a second chance and I’m super proud of our kids. This is a great win for a lot of reasons.”
Now Central (10-1) will meet the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between Franklin (9-0) and Springfield Central (8-2) in the D1 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium (TBA).
After Prep (8-3) opened the scoring with Jack Perry hitting Jesse Ofurie for a 9-yard touchdown, the Raiders started to gain control.
Senior quarterback Ayden Pereira struggled to connect with his receivers initially, but used his legs to engineer three scoring drives in the first half, two of which ended with Mathias Latham touchdowns.
Latham, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior, made his presence felt on both sides of the ball. He helped turn over the Eagles four times, with Kolten Williams tallying two interceptions and Ty Cannistraro intercepting a pass that set up Latham’s 22-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
“We really worked on our coverages this week,” Latham said. “[The Eagles] have some good receivers and we had to lock up.”
“We got embarrassed [in Week 3] and now we did the embarrassing. Now we’re getting the [Super Bowl] ring next. We were aiming for this game the whole time and it feels amazing [to win].”
Up 21-6 to start the third quarter, Central marched down the field on a 77-yard scoring drive that took 5:06 off the clock and ended with Pereira finding Cannistraro wide open for a 13-yard touchdown.
A fumble recovery and a second interception from Williams gave Central more chances to put the game away, and Pereira (18 carries, 136 yards) eventually rushed for his second score (from 5 yards out) to make it 35-6 early in the fourth quarter.
For a seasoned coach like Adamopoulos, who has seen plenty in his 30-plus years, a total team win against a fantastic program that has won consecutive D1 state titles is up there with the best moments of his career.
“I challenged our secondary yesterday at the end of practice, because they didn’t play well the last time we played [Prep],” said Adamopoulos
“Tonight, they played like I thought they could. The whole defense played really well. We got pressure tonight, which we didn’t the first time we played them, and that helped a lot. We tackled well, we just did everything better than we did earlier in the year.”