`X' leaves its mark on SJ.
SHREWSBURY - In spite of all its success, St. John's knew deep down that as good it has been inside Central Mass., the Pioneers are viewed elsewhere as just another team.
So against Xaverian High, a perennial state powerhouse, the Pioneers had an opportunity to open some eyes and prove they belong with the state's elite.
However, after leading by three points at halftime, St. John's went stagnant on offense over the final 22 minutes, and Xaverian went ahead early in the third quarter to come away with a 20-16 victory yesterday at Pioneer Field.
The top-ranked Pioneers fell to 7-1. The Hawks, coming off rare back-to-back defeats, improved to 6-2.
"You want to play the best teams and compete with them, and that's what our kids did today," St. John's coach John Andreoli said. "They stepped up and went toe-to-toe. (Xaverian) has got big, strong kids that run, and there were some collisions out there. But that's what we signed up for, to play those kinds of teams. Week in and week out, we do."
The Pioneers finished with 278 yards, but only 102 in the second half. The turnaround came minutes into the third quarter. Xaverian running back Hunter Taute's fumble was recovered by Richard Rodgers at the St. John's 20, and the Pioneers looked to extend their modest 16-13 lead.
However, senior quarterback Dan Light (13 of 29, 142 yards, one TD, two interceptions) was picked off by Nick McDaniels, who returned it 20 yards to the St. John's 10. Two plays later, senior running back Joe Coltan (19 carries, 102 yards) sprinted around the right side from 5 yards out with 8:30 left in the quarter, giving Xaverian the lead for good.
The Hawks then shut down the Pioneers, who turned the ball over on downs twice and punted twice in their final four possessions. St. John's entered the game averaging 41 points.
"This is a huge win for us," Xaverian coach Charlie Stevenson said. "We've been struggling the last couple of weeks and we really needed to have a great team effort today."
The Hawks, who finished with 356 yards, took an early 7-0 lead when junior quarterback Chris Calvanese (12 of 21, 146 yards, two TDs, one pick) threw a 9-yard TD pass to Mike Warren. The Pioneers made it 7-3 when Rodgers kicked a 27-yard field goal just before the end of the first quarter.
On Xaverian's ensuing possession, Matt Santoro of St. John's intercepted Calvanese's pass and returned it 53 yards, setting up Light's 27-yard TD pass to Rodgers (eight catches, 101 yards) with 52 seconds left in the quarter. Rodgers' PAT kick sailed wide and the Pioneers led, 9-7.
After a Xaverian punt, St. John's marched 62 yards with Light (18 carries, 99 yards) diving over from a yard out. Rodgers' kick was good and the Pioneers led, 16-7, with just over four minutes left in the half.
But the St. John's defense, which had been allowing just 8.4 points a game, failed to stop the Hawks before the break. Wide receiver Mike Muir (eight catches, 94 yards) hauled in a 24-yard pass, and Colton ran through gaps, setting up Muir's 2-yard TD catch with 30 seconds left in the half. Xaverian went into intermission trailing, 16-13.
CUTLINE: (1) Barron Dandridge of St. John's, right, tackles Xaverian's Chris Tamasi during the Pioneers' 20-16 loss. (Q2) St. John's Richard Rodgers is tackled by Xaverian's Tom Jenkins, left, and Joe Colton. (3) St. John's Richard Rodgers looks for running room around Xaverian's Joe Colton.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/TOM RETTIG