Plenty of teams use a committee of running backs, but a full foursome under center? That’s something only innovative Catholic Memorial coach John DiBiaso would dare implement.
Facing defending Division 1 state champion St. John’s Prep in a rematch of last year’s Super Bowl on Saturday, DiBiaso and his staff devised a unique game plan to offset the absence of starting senior quarterback Barrett Pratt , who was out with a knee sprain.
The Knights had four base packages, with junior quarterback Conor Fitzgerald, freshman quarterback JC Petrongolo , junior receiver Shiloh White, and junior linebacker Owen McGowan rotating into the game with the play call and taking snaps based on the formation.
According to DiBiaso, Petrongolo was primarily supposed to see time in play-action packages, but the freshman from Quincy wound up logging 32 snaps, completing 11 of 19 passes for 267 yards and four touchdowns without a turnover in leading CM to a 34-32 victory in Danvers.
“I was a little nervous to start off,” said Petrongolo. “I was fumbling a bit in warm-ups, but once the first drive went through, I was back to normal. I was excited out there and I told coach I was ready for more.”
Fitzgerald logged 10 snaps, White handled seven snaps, and the 6-foot-1, 225-pound McGowan (15 carries, 52 yards, touchdown) took 16 in the Knights’ Wing-T formation.
While it was McGowan salting the game away on power runs, he was put in that position thanks to poised throws from Petrongolo.
The freshman finished a five-play, 55-yard scoring drive with a creative flair; he faked a spike and threw a perfect throw to the back pylon for Daniel Lopes , who made an incredible, toe-tapping 14-yard touchdown catch with just 17 seconds remaining in the first half, giving CM a 21-7 halftime lead.
After St. John’s Prep (5-1) rallied to make it 21-19 midway through the third quarter, Petrongolo found Zach Mitchell on a crossing route and the junior took it 65 yards for his second touchdown of the afternoon.
That tandem essentially put the game away with an unlikely third-down conversion midway through the fourth quarter.
On third and 32, CM ran a short handoff with Fitzgerald under center, but Prep called timeout just before the snap, allowing DiBiaso to rethink the situation. Instead of playing it conservative he inserted Petrongolo, and the freshman threw a gutsy pass to Mitchell on a post pattern. Mitchell wrestled the ball away from Prep captain Pat Nistl and burst past the defense for a 61-yard touchdown to give CM a 34-26 lead.
“We knew we were down our starting quarterback and right guard [Quincy Plumer],” said Mitchell.
“So we knew we had to put [Petrongolo] in the most comfortable position. [The freshman’s success] was something unexpected, but then again, we expected it from him.
“Somebody had to step up, and all of us stepped up.”
Already No. 1 in the Globe’s rankings, CM (6-0) seems to be growing stronger every week.
The Knights’ defensive line bottled up Prep’s vaunted running game for most of the contest thanks to another surprising addition.
Junior Colby Spencer played football as a freshman, but didn’t try out for varsity last fall, concentrating on his role as the starting first baseman for the CM baseball team. When DiBiaso saw the 6-foot-3-inch, 205-pounder walking around the cafeteria, he quipped, “You’re too big to not be playing football!” and eventually convinced Spencer to join the team.
The defensive end was a menace on Saturday, recording two tackles for loss while blowing up at least five other running plays by knocking his blocker off the ball. Spencer added a fumble recovery for good measure.
“[Spencer] played well today,” said DiBiaso. “He’s only a junior and he’s coming into his own. I thought our defensive front played very well and came up with some big plays.
“We’ve developed a lot of depth now and we’re hoping to get Barrett back in a few weeks. Young guys are stepping up and I’m very proud of all of them.”
■ Danvers edged Swampscott, 7-6, Friday night to earn its third consecutive 1-point win. “It shows the composure we have, we can stay calm in tough situations and I just think that’s coaching,” said Falcons senior Richard Canova . “They stay a lot more calm than I do,” added Danvers coach Ryan Nolan . “You can’t have performances like this with teams that don’t care about each other and I think these kids care about each other and believe in each other.”
■ King Philip star lineman Nolan Gunning broke his leg during a loss to Mansfield a week ago. After a 14-0 Hockomock League win over Attleboro on Friday night, the Warriors contacted Gunning on FaceTime and the senior led the postgame huddle from his hospital bed. “That’s what football is really about,” said Warriors coach Brian Lee . “Winning games is great, but those are the memories they all take away.”
■ With a 21-7 win over Wakefield, Winchester is off to its first 5-0 start since 1990 . . . Bedford (5-0) topped Boston Latin, 55-33, to continue its strongest start since 2008 . . . Concord-Carlisle earned a 42-11 win over Somerville for its first 5-0 start since 2014 . . . Canton’s defense continued to dominate with a 35-0 win over Milford, and the Bulldogs have posted three shutouts and allowed just 27 points during their 5-0 start . . . Andover blanked Methuen, 28-0, for the Golden Warriors’ first shutout against an Merrimack Valley Conference foe since 2012 . . . Dante Vasquez ran for four touchdowns in the first half of a 35-0 win over Medford to extend Rockland’s state-best winning streak to 12 games . . . With starting running back Gray Thomas lost for the season due to an ACL injury, senior Danny Nolan has stepped up, recording 174 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries in Cohasset’s 27-8 win over Mashpee . . . In a 32-14 loss to Tewksbury, Billerica senior quarterback Nolan Houlihan hooked up with classmate Colby Cyrus for a 98-yard touchdown pass , tying the school record set by current Indians lacrosse coach Craig Flynn .