High School: St. John’s (DC) pulls away from Springfield Central

SPRINGFIELD — After Springfield Central’s 41-24 loss to Washington, DC-area powerhouse St. John’s College, the comments from the hosts were not unlike any other big game.

The Golden Eagles lamented the inability to play the second half the way they did the first. There was talk of fatigue hitting the team hard. In some ways, it was a loss like any other.

But in reality, Springfield Central accomplished more in defeat than they had in many of their wins. The Eagles led their nationally-ranked opponent at halftime, putting a real scare into the visitors, who came up from the Mid Atlantic by bus on Thursday.

So while St. John’s eventually pulled away, Central proved it could go toe-to-toe with an elite, national program, and live to tell about it. A year ago, Central hosted IMG Academy, and lost, 49-0. This game was far more competitive, and Central won some respect for both itself, and the state of Massachusetts.

“We’re not here to be complacent,” Central quarterback William Watson said. “We came out here trying to prove a point that we could play with the top teams in the nation. We did well in the first half, but we’ve got to be a better second-half team.”

Central, which fell to 2-1 on the season, impressed St. John’s coach Pat Ward.

“(Central is) every bit as good as any of the teams we’ve played,” St. John’s coach Pat Ward said. “I would say, outside of this year, outside of Chaminade Madonna (of Florida, which beat St. John’s the first week), (which is) probably a top five team in the nation. (Central) played a great game. I think football’s a great game, because any team can beat any team on any given day. . . . . Hat’s off to Central’s incredible, incredible quarterback. They have great defensive linemen.”

Central announced its intentions early. The Eagles drove down and scored a touchdown on the game’s first possession. Watson rolled to his left and threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Jackson. Kymari Latney then ran in the first of his three two-point conversions as Central grabbed an 8-0 lead.

St. John’s answered with back-to-back Du’Juan Riggs touchdown runs to grab a 12-8 lead. Riggs was impressive all game, as he rushed for 122 yards and four touchdowns on 13 carries.

The Eagles grabbed the lead right back, as Connelius Patrick scored from a yard out, and Central took a 16-12 lead.

Asa Gregg then put the Cadets back on top when he caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Isaiah French.

But Central went into halftime with the lead, as Watson took it himself on a 7-yard touchdown and the Eagles were up, 24-19, at the break. For the game, Watson completed 15 of 25 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.

The second half was a different story. St. John’s took the lead for good on a 20-yard touchdown by Gregg from Myles Slade. Riggs scored twice more, and the Cadets were just too strong in the ground game for Central to pose a threat.

“I think we played good,” Central coach Bill Watson said. “I think there are some things we need to improve on. That goes from coaching to players. What I mean by that is we’ve got to utilize our players in a way that we are energized in the fourth quarter, so we can impose our will.”

Central moves on to the Western Mass. portion of its schedule. The Eagles will play Longmeadow next week, and have the look of a team very capable of defending its Division 1 state title.