SHREWSBURY - Zak Kofos didn't need to throw deep passes to defeat Xaverian yesterday. The senior beat the Hawks with his feet.
The quarterback ran for 115 yards on 19 carries, including a crucial 61-yard touchdown in the final minute of the opening half, to lift St. John's (Shrewsbury) to a 19-7 victory at Pioneer Field.
"He runs very hard," said St. John's coach John Andreoli, whose club finished with 289 yards of offense. "He can run with power and with speed. When you have a quarterback who can run like that it gives you a different dimension particularly in a split back veer offense, which allows you to have three guys [in the backfield] who can hurt you.
"I thought [Zak] made some good decisions today and did a good job running the ball."
The unbeaten Pioneers (8-0) still face two major hurdles - league opponents Leominster (4-4) and Wachusett - as they pursue a a postseason berth.
"In our opinion the playoffs start next Saturday [against Leominster]," Andreoli said. "It's just that simple. The eight games we've played have been tremendous but we're coming back on Monday as if it were the playoffs. We've got to play our best football beginning next week."
Besides the stellar play of Kofos, who replaced starting quarterback Griffin Murphy three weeks ago after Murphy suffered a broken collarbone, the St. John's defense also performed admirably, slowing a Xaverian team that had won five of its last six games.
The Hawks could barely penetrate the Pioneer defense, finishing with 182 yards. The running game struggled, which left it up to junior Alex Phelan to air the ball out. Phelan completed 14 of 26 attempts for 131 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
A scoreless first quarter set the stage for an entertaining second in which all the game's points were scored.
St. John's got on the board first. A five-play, 37-yard drive was capped when Albert Mitchell took a pitch from Kofos and rumbled 9 yards into the end zone. Richard Rodgers's PAT put the Pioneers ahead, 7-0, just five seconds into the second frame.
"Our offensive line played great today," said Mitchell. "The holes were there today and we just ran through them. Xaverian is a tough team and put up a good fight today. We're at a point right now where we feel we have to win and refuse to lose."
On the ensuing possession, Phelan was picked off by defensive back Tim Wickstrom at the Xaverian 47. A few moments later, Mitchell (69 yards on 13 carries) busted through the Hawk defense for a 31-yard gain, setting up John Vassar's 1-yard plunge with 7:36 remaining in the half that upped the Pioneer lead to 13-0.
Xaverian (5-3) regained possession and finally began to show some life on offense. A pair of completions from Phelan to Jeremy Brady led to Anthony Knight's 10-yard scoring reception on a swing pass from Phelan. Brennan Sweeney's extra-point boot cut the deficit to 6 with 4:30 left in the half.
Xaverian lost its momentum when Kofos darted through the defense on an option run and bolted downfield to send St. John's into the break leading by 12.
Midway through the third quarter, Xaverian had a golden opportunity to score. But on second and goal from the Pioneer 3, Knight lost control of the handoff and St. John's recovered.
From that point, Xaverian never threatened as the Pioneer defense thwarted the Hawks.
"They beat us in every phase of the game today," said Hawks coach Charlie Stevenson. "We didn't finish off that big drive [inside the 5], which certainly hurt us."