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Dylan Aliberti, Cam LaGrassa help St. John’s Prep cap an emotionally difficult week with a win vs. Central Catholic

Senior running back Cam LaGrassa carried 21 times for , 117 yards and combined with classmate Dylan Aliberti (24 carries, 159 yards) to lead the Eagles to a 30-28 season-opening victory over Central Catholic Saturday in Danvers.Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe

DANVERS — It was an emotional week for the St. John’s Prep football program, leading right up to Saturday’s home opener against rival Central Catholic.

The defending Division 1 state champion started strong, and sputtered at times, but held on for a 30-28 victory on a windy afternoon at Glatz Field.

Prep lost junior center Angel Heredia and junior defensive back John Pascucci to season-ending injuries in practice. Prior to the game, the Eagles honored assistant coaches Dave McHenry and Mike Barbati, who retired last year after 66 combined years on the sideline.

Then the stadium observed a moment of silence for longtime Salem News reporter Jean DePlacido — a mainstay at Eagles home games for decades — who died unexpectedly this summer.


“[DePlacido was] just so loyal,” Prep coach Brian St. Pierre said. “It’s weird not having her here . . . . It was a tough week all the way around and I think we played like a team that’s emotionally spent right now.”

St. John's Prep's Dylan Aliberti stiff arms Central Catholic's Conor Shanahan during Saturday's season opener . Aliberti led Prep in rushing with 24 carries for 159 yards.Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe

Prep (2-0) rode the tailback tandem of Dylan Aliberti (24 carries, 159 yards) and Cam LaGrassa (21 carries, 117 yards) to build a 13-0 lead. Senior Alex Cianciaruso stepped in at center with veteran linemen Wells Gillett and Jack DiFilippo stabilizing the offensive line.

“They’re both really tough,” St. Pierre said of his senior backs. “They run really hard and they’re different. Cam is a bigger, stronger guy and Dylan is dynamic. He’s been waiting a long time behind some good backs and those guys are carrying us now.”

St. John's Prep coach Brian St. Pierre (above) credited senior running backs Dylan Aliberti and Cam LaGrassa for helping the Eagles navigate an emotionally difficult week. "Those guys are carrying us now," the coach said.Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe

Central (0-2) took a 14-13 lead in the second quarter via a 58-yard touchdown burst from Mason Bachry (7 carries, 105 yards) and a 2-yard run from Jaxon Pereira, capping a 63-yard scoring drive.

But after Aliberti caught a 30-yard touchdown pass, Pereira was picked off by Grayson Ambrosh in the waning seconds of the first half, setting up a 32-yard field goal by Langdon Laws to give the Eagles a 23-14 halftime lead.


Pereira, a receiver and defensive back, played well at quarterback for the Raiders with junior starter Blake Hebert (leg) inactive. The 5-foot-10 senior completed his first seven pass attempts in the second half, including a 27-yard touchdown strike to Jack Steen on fourth down. Pereira led a 73-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter to cut into the Prep lead, but Central never got the ball back.

Central Catholic's Jack Steen absorbs a jarring hit from St. John's Prep's John Droggitis after making a catch during Saturday's football game in Danvers.Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe

Aliberti tacked on three catches for 48 yards and two touchdowns, and delivered a key 4-yard touchdown run to put Prep up, 30-21, with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The senior also stabilized a relatively inexperienced Eagles secondary at safety.

“Playing both sides of the ball, everyone’s going to need a breather at some point,” Aliberti said. “Cam’s a good running back, I trust him 100 percent. I have no worries that when I come out of the game I have a great guy coming in behind me.”

The lines were drawn in Saturday's football game between host St. John's Prep (right) and visiting Central Catholic (left) in Danvers.Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe