DANVERS – Junior quarterback Jake Farrell had been a pleasant surprise for Xaverian, leading with exceptional poise for a first-year starter.
It was no different on Thanksgiving, as Farrell completed five straight passes to lead a 66-yard, game-winning drive in 1 minute and 36 seconds, capped by a 22-yard touchdown pass to AJ King with 28 seconds left that lifted Xaverian to a 28-22 victory over St. John’s Prep.
Xaverian (10-1, 4-0) secured the Catholic Conference title, but it came at a price.
Xaverian coach Charlie Stevenson made it clear he was going to play his starters against St. John’s Prep (6-5, 2-2), even though the Hawks are headed to the Division 1 Super Bowl against Central Catholic Dec. 7.
But against St. John’s Prep, senior captain and running back/linebacker Shayne Kaminski, who had a 90-yard touchdown run, was injured in the first quarter, and fullback Kenny Kern was injured in the second quarter, leaving the Hawks’ backfield depleted before halftime.
Xaverian senior Mike Vozzella and sophomore John Dean were also injured.
“Football is football. You have to play in order to get better, you have to practice in order to get better,” Stevenson said. “I’m disappointed that they have an injury. I don’t know their status right now, but I’m hoping it’s not that bad.”
King, a senior captain, never thought twice about playing.
“I wanted to play,” King said. “We all wanted to play. I hate to see [injuries], we all hate to see it. But I wouldn’t change anything. This is a championship game for the Catholic Conference and the last time we play the Prep. If you’re not going to play this game, then you’re not a football player.”
There was no shortage of energy in the Catholic Conference matchup. The teams competed hard, and the intensity boiled over in the third quarter after Billy Leroux scored on a 5-yard run to give Xaverian a 20-16 lead with 1:01 to play in the quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff return, a Xaverian defender delivered a hard hit to Owen Rockett as he neared the sideline, sparking a melee that resulted in the ejection of St. John’s Prep center Sean Lovett.
“The Prep came out hard like we expected them to,” Farrell said. “There was a little jawing going back and forth, but you just have to put that stuff off to the side, that’s football and you just got to play.”
Once the tempers settled, St. John’s Prep appeared headed to victory. Michael Geaslen connected with Jack Lambert for a 6-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles a 22-20 lead with 2:11 remaining — until Farrell led the Hawks on the game-winning drive.
Cody Harwood led St. John’s Prep with 181 rushing yards on 22 carries, including a 46-yard touchdown that gave the Prep a 16-6 lead with 9:10 to play in the second quarter.
“The kids never gave up, and the kids played hard,” St. John’s Prep coach Jim O’Leary said. “It’s two good football teams. Their record is much better than ours, but we could play with them.”