By CHRIS McMANES — When returning DeMatha football coach Bill McGregor last coached the Stags, he faced a vastly different schedule. One of the biggest changes begins tonight when DeMatha plays its first regular-season home game ever at Catholic University. 

The contest will be the first of five games the Stags play this season on Catholic’s Northeast Washington campus. 

“I’m really excited to get the opportunity to play at Catholic University,” said McGregor, who led DeMatha to a 278-40-3 (.875 winning percentage) record during his first stint (1982-2010) at the Hyattsville school. “It’s a great facility. Their new field is beautiful. The locker rooms are very, very nice. 

“I think it’s a fantastic place for us to go over and play some home games.”

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DeMatha junior defensive end Colin Mobley skies high in DeMatha’s game last week in the Los Angeles area. The Stags’ schedule, which has recently featured a game each year on ESPN, has changed considerably in the past decade. Photo courtesy of Ed King.

The Stags, ranked fourth locally, welcome Imhotep Charter to Cardinal Stadium at 7 p.m. DeMatha played the Panthers for the first time last year and came away with a 27-8 victory in Philadelphia. Monumental Sports will stream tonight’s game live. 

The Stags’ seven-game home schedule also includes two games at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Center in Landover. DeMatha, which has called the center home for the past several years, doesn’t have an on-campus football facility. 

The team has also recently played home games at Parkdale High School and Bowie State University. It practices at Hyattsville’s Heurich Field.

“Back in the 1950s and 60s, the games used to be at Northwestern,” DeMatha Director of Advancement Tom Ponton recalled. “We have also played home games at Carroll, St. John’s, McNamara and DuVal.” 

The fan experience will likely be better at Cardinal Stadium than it was in Landover. The latter facility is very good, but the stands are relatively far from the field. Catholic’s complex, by contrast, brings fans much closer to the action. And with the opening of Carlini Field and its adjacent parking lot, many more people can park on campus. 

“To me, it just makes sense for us to play there,” McGregor said. “Catholic U. is a Catholic University, and we’re a Catholic school. I think everything goes hand in hand. I’m happy and excited to play there.” 

Following an eight-year stretch in which he was an assistant coach for two Baltimore-area Catholic schools, McGregor returned to Hyattsville to lead the Stags. He replaces the man who succeeded him, Elijah Brooks, who is now coaching running backs at Maryland. 

During McGregor’s final season (2010) before his departure, DeMatha played seven Washington Catholic Athletic Conference regular-season games and four nonconference contests. This year, the Stags play four WCAC games – before the playoffs – and suit up against six nonleague opponents. 

The WCAC schedule change began last year when the conference went to a two-tier system because of stark differences in roster size and playing ability among many of the schools. DeMatha is in the Capital Division with Gonzaga, Good Counsel, St. John’s and McNamara. All but McNamara are ranked in the top 5 of The Washington Post’s first area poll.

Whereas it used to play those teams throughout its schedule, the Deer Men now essentially close out the season with a four-game, five-team shootout. The top four teams then battle it out for the WCAC championship. The Metro Division, made up of Ireton, O’Connell, Paul VI, Carroll and 2018 champion St. Mary’s Ryken, has its own playoffs. 

The Stags’ 2010 non-conference slate included road games at Loyola Blakefield in Towson and Gilman in Baltimore. Home opponents were Carroll County of Hillsville, Va., and Washington’s Friendship Collegiate Academy, which is also on this year’s schedule. McGregor joined the Gilman staff the following year.

Over the past five seasons, except for 2016, DeMatha has opened with a nationally ranked opponent on ESPN. The Stags defeated No. 2 Miami Central at home in 2015, 38-14. They lost last week to No. 3 St. John Bosco, 35-7, in Bellflower, Calif., and were shut out in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., by St. Thomas Aquinas to open the 2018 season.

“We used to travel [out of town],” McGregor said, “but nothing like we do now. It’s much more difficult to schedule games. The teams that we’re playing now are much higher-quality teams. Just take a look at our schedule.

“It’s ranked as the ninth-toughest schedule in the country, which is really difficult.” 

DeMatha will host one of the top teams in Ohio when St. Ignatius of Cleveland comes to Landover on Saturday Sept. 21. The Stags first WCAC home game is Friday Oct. 25 against Good Counsel. McNamara rounds out the home slate on Friday Nov. 8. 

DeMatha played at Catholic University for the first time in last year’s WCAC championship game, where it lost to Gonzaga, 46-43. Prior to that, McGregor said the only other time his squad took the five-mile trip to Catholic was when it had a three-team scrimmage with Dunbar of Baltimore and Don Bosco of New Jersey.

That was well before the Cardinals played on a turf field and had lights. “The new facility is gorgeous,” McGregor said. 

McGregor is fond of Catholic. His brother, Jimmy, played baseball there under Tim McCormick. His stepson, Billy Sutton, graduated from DeMatha and was the Cardinals’ starting quarterback in 2002. He has a degree in civil engineering. 

“I’ve been over to Catholic U. for a number of football and basketball games, and other events,” McGregor said. “This will be the first time for a football game.” 

Regardless of where McGregor’s team plays, his job is to lead the squad to victory. 

“It doesn’t matter where we’re playing,” he said. “We still have to run, kick, pass, block and tackle better than our opponent. The team that does that the best and avoids turnovers usually wins.” 

Chris McManes (mick-maynz) has won three national writing awards for the Hyattsville Life & Times. This is his fifth season covering DeMatha football.