Ayden Pereira couldn’t see the result as he tossed the ball into the end zone as the defenders moved in to deliver a crushing blow.
But, in the midst of painting a masterpiece, the central Catholic senior quarterback knew where the ball would land.
“I rode and was stretched to the sidelines,” Pereira recalls. “I saw that there was a defender I had to throw the ball on. I was hit really hard as soon as I threw it. I lay down and was on the ground, but as soon as he left my hand, I knew I had had enough of it.
The result was a 54-yard strike for Ty Cannistraro, one of 10 touchdowns Pereira delivered in his historic performance last Friday night in a thrilling 67-52 season opener at Springfield Central.
The reigning Eagle-Tribune offensive MVP set career highs in passing yards (448) and touchdown passes (7) while rushing 10 times for 154 yards and three touchdowns during his performance for ages.
“It really hit me what happened when we went up two scores and I could sit back and relax a bit,” said Pereira, who has now thrown for 3,136 yards and 41 touchdowns over the course of. his academic career. “Then it really took hold on Monday. I would say this is the best game I have ever played. It was a very special evening, an evening that I do not think I will ever forget.
Now, with that shining night in his rearview mirror, Pereira focused on Saturday, when Central – the team ranked No.1 in the Fox 25 statewide polls and No.2 by Maxpreps.com – will face rival St. John’s Prep (1-0). The Raiders have lost four straight games to the Eagles, including two losses in the Division 1 North title game.
“I’ve never beaten them at the college level,” said Pereira of the prep, who is ranked No. 7 in the Fox 25 poll. “I’m 0-2 against them. It would be huge to beat them and go 2-0. We can’t go crazy, but it would be an important win that we really want. “
What ended as a career performance started off less than glamorously.
Pereira and Central, after all, had to make the 110-mile trip from Lawrence to Springfield.
“It took us about 2.5 hours to get there,” Pereira recalls. “It’s hard to sit there for so long. I actually slept about 45 minutes. The rest of the time I would relax and listen to music. We got them early enough to get rid of the ride.
He opened the game with a bang, connecting with Judge McGrail for an 85-yard touchdown, his first of three scores in the first quarter. He then added three more touchdown passes in the second quarter.
“I realized what was going on at half time and then I kind of forgot when the second half started,” he said. “But the guys would come up to me saying, ‘You got 7 hits, you got 8 hits.’ I didn’t count, but my teammates were.
He opened the third with a pair of touchdown passes – a 41-yard run down midfield, then hit Cannistraro to give the Raiders the lead. In the fourth, he threw his third touchdown of the day at McGrail, then capped the performance with a 29-yard touchdown.
After the game and this week, high school football fans were buzzing about Pereira.
“Ayden had such a good performance than I have ever seen in any sport in my many years at Central Catholic,” said Central Catholic football head coach Chuck Adamopoulos, who has trained in school for 38 years. “He was just amazing.”
TAKE THE PREPARATION
The last time Central Catholic faced St. John’s Prep, in the 2019 Division 1 North Final, Pereira was sidelined.
The week before, in an overtime thriller about Everett, Pereira suffered a split right shoulder, shoulder throwing.
“It was tough,” said the Auburn, NH resident. “I was able to end Everett’s game on the adrenaline rush. But my shoulder did not improve during the week. I couldn’t train all week and only made seven passes in one pass. I tried to oust him, but I couldn’t.
After failing to face the prep last year, playing a conference program purely due to COVID, Pereira is pumped for another shot against the Eagles.
“It’s a tough team with a lot of talent,” said Pereira, who has Division 1 college offers including Colorado State and Merrimack and could make a decision in the coming weeks. “But I feel like we can win. We are very confident in the team we have.