Sep. 17—Ayden Pereira couldn't see the result as he hurled the ball toward the end zone as defenders closed in to deliver a crushing hit.
But, in the midst of painting a masterpiece, the Central Catholic senior quarterback knew where the ball would land.
"I rolled out and was extended all the way to the sidelines," Pereira remembered. "I saw there was one defender I had to throw the ball over. I got hit really hard as soon as I threw it. I got laid out and was on the ground, but as soon as it left my hand I knew I had enough on it."
The result was a 54-yard scoring strike to Ty Cannistraro, one of the 10 touchdowns Pereira delivered during his historic performance last Friday night in a thrilling season-opening 67-52 win 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 the ages.
"It really hit me what was happening when we went up two scores and I could sit back and relax a little," said Pereira, who has now thrown for 3,136 yards and 41 TDs in his varsity career. "Then it really set in on Monday. I would say that's the best game I've ever played. It was a very special night, one I don't think I'll ever forget."
Now, with that brilliant night in his rear view mirror, Pereira has turned his focus to Saturday, when Central — the No. 1-ranked team in the state-wide Fox 25 polls and No. 2 by Maxpreps.com — will take on rival St. John's Prep (1-0). The Raiders have lost four straight to the Eagles, including two losses in the Division 1 North title game.
"I've never beaten them at the varsity level," said Pereira of the Prep, which is ranked No. 7 in the Fox 25 poll. "I'm 0-2 against them. It would be big to beat them and go 2-0. We can't go crazy, but it would be a significant win that we really want."
What ended as a career performance began in less than glamorous fashion.
Pereira and Central, after all, had to make the 110 mile journey from Lawrence to Springfield.
"It took us about 2.5 hours to get there," remembered Pereira. "It's tough to sit for that long. I actually slept for about 45 minutes. The rest of the time I relaxed and listened to music. We got their early enough to shake off the ride."
He opened the game with a bang, connecting with Justice McGrail for an 85-yard TD, his first of three scores in the first quarter. He then added three more TD passes in the second quarter.
"I realized what was happening at halftime, then I kind of forgot when the second half started," he said. "But guys were coming up to me saying, 'You have 7 touchdowns, you have 8 touchdowns.' I wasn't counting, but my teammates were."
He opened the third with a pair of touchdown runs — one a 41-yard dash through the middle of the field, then hit Cannistraro to give the Raiders the lead. In the fourth, he threw his third TD of the day to McGrail and then capped the performance with a 29-yard touchdown rush.
After the game, and into this week, high school football fans were buzzing about Pereira.
"Ayden had as good a performance as I have ever seen in any sport in my many years at Central Catholic," said Central Catholic head football coach Chuck Adamopoulos, who has coached at the school for 38 years. "He was just incredible."
TAKING ON THE PREP
The last time Central Catholic took on St. John's Prep, in the 2019 Division 1 North final, Pereira ended the game on the sidelines.
The week before, in an overtime thriller over Everett, Pereira suffered a separated right, throwing shoulder.
"It was tough," said the Auburn, N.H., resident. "I was able to finish the Everett game on adrenaline. But my shoulder didn't get any better during the week. I couldn't practice the whole week and only threw seven passes in a walk-through. I tried to gut it out, but I couldn't."
After not facing the Prep last year, playing a conference-only schedule due to COVID, Pereira is pumped for another shot at the Eagles.
"They're a tough team with a lot of talent," said Pereira, who has Division 1 college offers including Colorado State and Merrimack and may make a decision in the next few weeks. "But I feel like we can win. We are very confident in the team that we have."