FOXBOROUGH — All Wes Rockett needed was an opportunity.
An opportunity to play on high school football’s biggest stage, to wrest the momentum away from rival Catholic Memorial in a back-and-forth Division 1 Super Bowl, and immortalize his family name with a performance for the ages.
Late on Saturday night, St John’s Prep’s senior captain seized that opportunity, snaring a 21-yard touchdown reception with a defender draped all over him to put his team ahead for good in a 40-22 victory at Gillette Stadium.
It is the first state championship for St. John’s Prep (10-2) since the MIAA moved to the new playoff format in 2013. It also marks the end of a long road back for Rockett, who missed his entire junior season with a torn meniscus.
“My main goal was just to play again. It was a long road back,” said Rockett. “I’m not going to lie and say [playing at Gillette] didn’t cross my mind. Of course it did. I’ve dreamt of this my entire life.”
Prep fifth-year coach Brian St. Pierre also coached Rockett’s older brothers, star receivers Owen and Hayden. The accomplished former quarterback had high praise for Wes, who finished with a game-high 189 yards and three touchdowns on nine receptions.
“Wes is as good a receiver as we’ve had,” said St. Pierre. “His brother Owen was a great receiver, Hayden as well, and [Wes] just cemented his legacy here. He was the best player on the field tonight.”
The Prep defense dominated early, forcing the Knights (9-3) into four punts on their first four possessions.
Senior captain Aise Pream (21 carries, 155 yards) punched in a 6-yard touchdown, Sean Majeski hit a 35-yard field goal, and Rockett caught a 52-yard strike from Matt Crowley (11-of-27 passing, 218 yards, three touchdowns) to make it 16-0 Prep early in the second quarter.
However, the CM defense turned the game around in a flash.
Lucas Folan stripped Crowley and Will Stockwell recovered, setting up a 23-yard touchdown pass from Barrett Pratt to Daniel Lopes.
Then Stockwell forced a fumble and senior Devon Williams returned it 47 yards for a touchdown to trim the deficit to 16-14 with just 1:05 coming off the clock.
Despite outgaining CM, 233-26, in the first half, Prep only held a 19-14 advantage at the break.
The Knights took a 22-19 lead on their first possession of the second half, as Pratt hit Owen McGowan for a 14-yard score and found Jamall Griffin for a successful 2-point conversion.
But Prep showed no panic, rallying to stop CM on fourth and short before Rockett’s incredible catch in the back corner of the south end zone turned the tide.
“Owen [Rockett] was faster, but Wes is an unbelievable route runner,” said St. Pierre. “He understands coverages and the nuances of defenses and he has a special gift at catching the ball. I’ve never seen a guy at this level catch the ball so smoothly.”
Late in the fourth quarter, an Antael Rosa interception gave Prep good field position, and Pream made it a two-score game with a 4-yard touchdown run. Rockett added an interception at safety and put a bow on his night with a 26-yard touchdown on a blown coverage.
“We were firing on all cylinders early and then we had a few turnovers,” Rockett said. “The general consensus on the sidelines was, that’s not us. Let’s play our game, bounce back, and finish this game and that’s exactly what we did.”
After leading his alma mater to glory, St. Pierre joins a select list of those to win a Massachusetts state championship as a player (1997) and coach with the same program.
“This encapsulates us,” St. Pierre said of the tumultuous victory. “We’re far from perfect. We’re a flawed group in a lot of ways, but it’s a beautiful group. They’re acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses as a team and their resiliency will be their hallmark.”
PIVOTAL PLAY: After the Prep defense stopped Catholic Memorial on fourth and inches, Eagles quarterback Matt Crowley looked to capitalize late in the third quarter. The junior lofted a perfect ball to the back pylon for Wes Rockett, who caught the ball over CM sophomore Zach Mitchell and landed with his back just barely in bounds to give the Eagles a lead they would never relinquish.
St. John’s Prep 40, Catholic Memorial 22
More photos of the Division 1 Super Bowl:Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.