DANVERS — There was 1:59 left in regulation when St. John’s Prep scored the game-tying touchdown in a Division 1 North semifinal on their campus Saturday afternoon.
But had the Prep left sublime Andover QB E.J. Perry IV too much time?
As it turned out, Perry only needed about half those precious seconds.
After breaking free for a 68-yard run, Perry rolled to his right and threw a dart to Cedric Gillette in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:23 left to play. Andover’s defense held off the Prep’s last ditch efforts to score a thrilling 35-28 shocking upset of St. John’s Prep in the Division 1 North semifinals.
“It’s unbelievable. Going into the huddle after they tied it, we said, ‘Look, this is our game. If we score, we win,” said Perry, a Boston College commit who staged one of the most impressive second halves in the brief history of these full blown MIAA playoffs.
With the win, Andover advances to the Division 1 North final for the first time since the MIAA realigned the football playoff format. The Golden Warriors will take on Everett, which rolled over Central Catholic in the other semifinal.
That puts the Warriors just one win from a trip the Division 1 state title game.
Throwing for 320 yards in all, Perry threw all four of his touchdown passes in the second half. He was surgical with the game on the line, completing 13-of-18 in the third and fourth quarters to bring his Warriors (5-4) back from two touchdown deficit.
“That last throw to Cedric was a laser,” said Andover head coach EJ Perry III, whose team will face Everett in next week’s Division 1 North final. “We were hoping that last drive would be more than 40 seconds. St. John’s is a tough opponent and we found a way to get it done.”
The Prep (6-3) appeared to be in complete control with a 21-7 halftime lead thanks to Mike Yarin’s 75-yard TD pass to Mike Galatis on the first half’s last play. The Eagles got the ball to begin the third quarter and when Andover forced them to punt, the momentum shifted.
“That’s two weeks in a row we’ve come out and played good defense in the second half,” said the elder Perry. “We were down at half, but we told the kids, ‘Relax. We can outplay them in the second half.’”
Perry connected with John Boese for a 4-yard score in the third quarter to make it 21-14. After Andover’s defense got a fourth down stop, he hit Joe Rockwell for a 59-yard TD to tie it.
Following a St. John’s punt, Perry directed a five-play drive capped by his pinpoint pass to Rockwell for a 14-yard TD and Andover’s first lead, 28-21 with 6:45 remaining.
“It’s the playoffs, our lives are on the line and we knew we needed the stops,” said the younger Perry, who played cornerback nearly the entire game as well and never tired, throwing with impressive accurately even when flushed out of the pocket by the Prep’s pass rush.
The Eagles needed 12 plays to tie the game, with hard running by Pream and Trent Tully getting the job done. Tully scored from 5-yards out and Pat McTiernan hit his fourth extra point to make it 28-28 deep in the fourth quarter.
“If you looked at E.J, after they scored, he was calming the sideline down. He told them not to worry,” said coach Perry. “We have 27 seniors and they’re not afraid of anything. They just keep fighting.”
Gillette led all receivers with 113 yards on seven catches while Rockwell gained 112 on five grabs. Perry also ran for 100 yards despite being sacked three times, with most of those coming on the 68-yard scamper that set up the game-winning touchdown.
“He’s a really good athlete. His ability to extend plays made a difference,” said St. Pierre. “He’s a great player.”
Andover 35, St. John’s Prep 28
Andover (5-4): 0 7 7 21 — 35
St. John’s Prep (6-3): 7 14 0 7 — 28
SJP — Aise Pream 12 run (Pat McTiernan kick)
A — E.J. Perry 1 run (Charles Ziegenbein kick)
SJP — Pream 3 run (McTiernan kick)
SJP — Mike Galatis 75 pass from Mike Yarin (McTiernan kick)
A — John Boese 54 pass from Perry (Ziegenbein kick)
A — Josh Rockwell 59 pass from Perry (Ziegenbein kick)
A — Rockwell 14 pass from Perry (Ziegenbein kick)
SJP — Trent Tully 5 run (McTiernan kick)
A — Cedric Gillette 15 pass from Perry (Ziegenbein kick)
RUSHING: Andover (16-101) — E.J. Perry 15-100, Jeremy Travaglini 1-1; St. John’s Prep (33-191) — Aise Pream 23-148, Trent Tully 6-31, Mike Yarin 3-12, Wes Rockett 1-0.
PASSING: Andover — Perry 23-36-0, 320; St. John’s Prep — Yarin 9-20-0, 169.
RECEIVING: Andover — Cedric Gillette 7-113, Josh Rockwell 5-112, Travaglini 7-56, John Boese 4-39; St. John’s Prep — Mike Galatis 2-88, Cam Weaver 4-64, Wes Rockett 3-17.