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DIVISION 1 FOOTBALL SEMIFINALS

Angry and animated, St. John’s Prep seconds its effort to take command in Division 1 semifinal

LOWELL — St. John’s Prep could not have scripted a better third quarter to gain some separation in a heated rivalry bout with Central Catholic for the right to play in the Division 1 Super Bowl.

But it was the Eagles’ decision to go off script with a fake punt that helped maintain a 14-play, six-minute drive to put Prep ahead for good in a 28-7 victory at Lowell’s Cawley Stadium Friday night.

St. John’s Prep (9-2) will meet reigning state champion Springfield Central (10-1) at Gillette Stadium in the D1 Super Bowl (TBA).

“We were angry,” Prep coach Brian St. Pierre said of the way his team played in the second half.

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“Some things happened in that first half. We lost Jesse [Ofurie]. Guys were going down left and right [to injury]. There’s a rivalry involved here. Our kids were pretty animated at halftime. We discussed it and we decided to do something about it.”

With senior captain Carson Browne (28 carries, 133 yards, 3 TD) carrying the load, Prep ran 22 plays and held possession for 10:40 of the third quarter. The Eagles looked like they would punt from just inside the Raiders 40-yard line, but Santiago Quiceno took the direct snap and ran around the edge for a 12-yard gain to extend their go-ahead drive, which was capped by Browne’s 3-yard touchdown rumble.

“It was just a gut feeling,” St. Pierre said about the decision to call a fake. “It was such a back and forth game and I felt like we had to grab it and seize it right there.”

The Eagles defense forced Central (8-3) into a three-and-out and provided the offense with short fields twice in the fourth quarter, with Browne finishing both touchdown drives on power run plays. Browne also tossed a halfback pass to Stephon Patrick (5 catches, 72 yards) for a 29-yard touchdown in the first quarter to oepn the scoring.

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Aside from the occasional deceptive play and an efficient performance from sophomore quarterback Deacon Robillard (9-for-15, 162 passing yards), the Eagles simply ran the ball down Central’s throat, with St. Pierre yelling to his players that there were “no secrets” about what they would call when they got into scoring position.

“[Browne] has been through so much injury-wise and he’s just a great player,” said St. Pierre. “He ran like a man on a mission tonight and the offensive line was outstanding, especially to close out the game. We put it on them and there’s been a lot of growth [with that unit].”

Springfield Central 54, Methuen 14 — Springfield Central might have gotten off to a slow start in the first quarter but once they got rolling, they were nearly unstoppable.

Will Watson, the University of Nebraska-bound senior quarterback, threw for 192 yards on 12-of-27 passing and scored four touchdowns (two passing) as he led the fourth-seeded Golden Eagles over No. 8 Methuen in the Div. 1 state semifinal at Shrewsbury High School.

“It’s going to be the greatest moment of my high school career,” said Watson about going back to the Div. 1 Super Bowl. “It’s going to be the last time I put on this jersey. Last time putting on the pads with my brothers that I grew up with.”

The future Cornhusker also ran for 123 yards on 10 carries as he led Springfield (10-1) back to Gillette Stadium for the third time in the last four years and the third straight season with postseason football.

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“I think experience is great,” Springfield Central first year head coach Bill Watson said. “With experience, you get the understanding of the routine and knowledge and can eliminate some unknowns.”

The Golden Eagles will play the winner of No. 7 St. John’s Prep and third-seeded Central Catholic in the D1 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium (date, time TBA).

Springfield Central beat the Raiders last year, 22-15 in the Super Bowl to claim the D1 title.

The Rangers (8-3) weren’t even expected to be playing in this game. Methuen advanced to the semifinals after a thrilling upset win over Franklin, avenging their loss to the Panthers in the playoffs last year.

“This is the best team we’ve had in 30 years for sure,” Methuen coach Tom Ryan said. “We have a lot to be proud of in our program.”