WORCESTER -- North Middlesex could not find an answer for the high-powered St. John's offensive attack, as it fell to the Pioneers Saturday night, 55-26, in the opening round of the Central Mass. Division 2 football playoffs at Assumption College.
It was North Middlesex's first taste of the postseason after an 18-year hiatus.
Senior running back Trey Callahan had a strong performance on the ground for the Patriots as he trotted in from 35 yards out with 3:30 remaining in the game to cap off the scoring for North Middlesex. Callahan rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown.
"There is no quit, we certainly did a lot of good things offensively," North Middlesex head coach Sandy Ruggles said. "We did some good things in the beginning, but we gave up some big plays.
North Middlesex starting quarterback John Boutwell (7-of-17, 96 yards) rushed for three touchdowns in the loss.
The Patriots received the ball to start the game at the Pioneers' 45-yard line after a 45-yard return by Ryan MacDonald. However, the Patriots were forced to punt after just four plays. Saint John's quickly morphed the game into a track meet. On the first play from scrimmage for the Pioneers, running back Davon Jones cut outside and sprinted down the left sideline, 60-yards before hurdling over the pylon for the touchdown with 9:00 left in the first quarter. St. John's kicker Jack Coveney split the uprights for the extra-point to make it 7-0.
North Middlesex methodically matriculated the ball down the field after MacDonald, yet again, set the Patriots up with some prime real estate after a huge kick return at the Pioneers' 47-yard line.
Boutwell hooked up with his senior wide receiver, Zak Davis, for a gain of 25-yards which put the Patriots in the red zone. The Patriots picked up a few yards, but St. John's held the line, which brought up a fourth-and-goal from the St. John's 10-yard line.
Boutwell took a three-step drop and fired a ball in the direction of MacDonald, but he was picked off by a leaping Jones in the back off the end zone. It was dejavu for the North Middlesex on the ensuing Pioneers drive. Starting quarterback
St. John's took over at the North Middlesex 20-yard line, and it would take just one play before it drove the length of the field for a touchdown. Shane Combs took an option pitch off guard and cut out to the right sideline and broke free for the touchdown with 5:20 remaining in the half. Coveney tacked on the extra point to make it 14-0.
The lead would quickly balloon out to 35-0 before North Middlesex finally was able to coterize its wound. Large receptions from Dylan Woods and Matt Wheeler for a combined 35-yards, pitted the Patriots inside the St. John's 20-yard line.
Boutwell eventually bowed his head and plowed into the end zone form five-yards-out for the touchdown with 2:20 left in the second quarter. Matt Wheeler's extra point missed its mark as the Pats trailed 35-6. They were not out of the woods yet, as St. John's recorded another score before the half to make it 42-6.
It would have been very easy for Ruggles' boys to pack it in, but they did not.
Woods left the game with an apparent wrist injury, but Callahan picked up the slack at the running back position. On the Patriots first offensive drive of the second half, Boutwell marched the troops down into St. John's territory with his crisp passing.
The sharpest pass of the drive was on a bomb down the left sideline to Claremont, who leaped up while under pressure and secured the bullet with an over-the-shoulder grab.
Claremont's reception was good for 27-yards, which put the Patriots at the 10-yard line of St. John's.
Two plays later, Boutwell took the ball off tackle and in for six. Later in the fourth quarter, Boutwell plunged into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown.
"Good teams do good things," Ruggles said of St. John's. "I was very happy with how our kids played. There is no shame in losing to a good football team."
North Middlesex will continue its season in the losers' bracket Friday night, when it host Fitchburg at John E. Young Memorial Field at 7 p.m.