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DeMatha Football improves to 3-0 with thrilling five-overtime victory

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Posted on: September 19, 2023

By Chris McManes

The No. 3 DeMatha football team teetered on the edge of defeat all night Friday. But the Stags regrouped with several big plays late to defeat Roman Catholic, 25-23, in five overtimes. 

DeMatha junior quarterback Denzel Gardner, who scored three touchdowns, ended it when he passed to Cody Williams for the winning two-point conversion.

“That was my first thrill like that ever,” Gardner said. “It was amazing – five overtimes. I can’t even describe this feeling right now. When I saw he caught ball, I said ‘it’s time to celebrate.’”

With the Sept. 15 win at Wilson Stadium in Landover, the Stags improved to 3-0. The Cahillites, ranked ninth in Pennsylvania, fell to 3-1. 

“I’m so proud of our effort tonight,” DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor said. “There were a number of times when we could have given it up, hung our heads, but we just kept on coming back and competing – play after play. And it wasn’t just one guy. Everybody did something well to help us win.

“It was a great team effort.”

After trailing 3-0 at halftime, the Stags marched 65 yards on their first drive of the second half and scored on Gardner’s 1-yard run. Roman Catholic regained the lead on a 6-yard TD pass from Semaj Beals to Dazhaun Hopkins. Beals highlighted the drive with back-to-back pass completions of 26 yards to Zamir Newsuan and 37 yards to Luke Van Brill. 

The extra point hit the left upright to keep the Cahillites lead at 9-7.

Gardner brought DeMatha back on its next possession by completing a 10-yard pass to senior Remy Robinson and a 19-yard crossing pattern to sophomore Lavar Keys. 

Following a 15-yard run by sophomore Elijah Lee and an 11-yard completion to Williams, Gardner scored from the 2-yard line. His shovel pass connection with Robinson for two points gave the Stags a 15-9 advantage with 9:44 to go in the fourth quarter.

Roman Catholic tied it with 2:11 left on a 38-yard scoring strike. Sophomore Darrell Carey prevented the Cahillites from taking a one-point lead by blocking the extra point. 

“It was a great play by Darrell – absolutely fantastic,” McGregor said. 

Roman Catholic took the lead in the first overtime when Beals found Van Brill from seven yards out. The Cahillites faked the point-after, and Jah Jah Boyd ran it in for two points to go up 23-15.

On DeMatha’s first play of overtime, Gardner ran 25 yards down the right sideline to reach the end zone.

“It was a designated pass play, but I didn’t see what I liked,” the DeMatha signal-caller said. “I rode out to the right, saw a [defender and] made a stutter step. He fell, and I just dove for the pylon and scored.”

The Stags still needed two points for the game to continue. After a pass interference penalty put the ball on the 1, Gardner took a direct snap from the pistol formation and found paydirt. 

The Stags missed a go-ahead field goal in the second overtime, then held their breath as Roman Catholic’s 35-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.

From the third overtime on, teams alternate by attempting two-point conversions from the 3. Neither squad scored in the third and fourth extra sessions. The Cahillites’ fifth possession saw Beals recover his own fumble and roll to his left. Junior Jermaine Minnis kept him from scoring with a great open-field tackle.

Gardner finally brought the game to an end at 10:04 p.m. by hitting Williams over the middle. 

“I was telling Denzel to trust me all day on the slant,” Williams said. “We were working on it all week. I had one-on-one [coverage], and he trusted me to make the play.” 

Gardner, a three-year starter, finished 12 of 26 for 117 yards. He played a role in 24 of DeMatha’s 25 points. 

“He’s a great athlete,” McGregor said. “He can beat you with his arm, he can beat you with his legs.” 

Williams, McGregor and Gardner all agreed that the contest was good preparation for the rigors of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. The Stags are planning to play Roman Catholic in Philadelphia next season. 

“They know how to win, they know how to play hard,” McGregor said. “Their quarterback is outstanding, their defense flies around and they have great wide receivers.”

The game was the first in DeMatha history to end on an overtime two-point conversion. 

“We’ve never had an overtime like this.” McGregor said. “It’s new territory for all of us.” 

Students get an A+ 

DeMatha students, who stand the entire game, ran down the concourse from their original seats to be closer to the overtime action. Once the Stags secured the victory, they joined in the celebration. 

“I loved our student body tonight. They were absolutely fantastic,” McGregor said. “I’m so proud of how they come out and support us. Truthfully, they’re our 12th man. They keep us going, they keep us hungry.

“When we were taking the field, the students were walking in and right away our energy changed. Our guys heard them cheering and pounding the drum. It’s a difference maker. It’s great to be home and have that 12th man.” 

Next game

DeMatha hosts Life Christian Academy in Landover on Friday Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. The Stags beat the Eagles (0-2) last season, 28-0.

DeMatha’s ranking held steady at No. 3 in The Washington Post Top 20

Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha football for the Hyattsville Life & Times.

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