By Chris McManes

The No. 3 DeMatha offense let two golden scoring opportunities go by early before putting together a late touchdown drive in a 14-7 victory over ninth-ranked Gonzaga at Wilson Stadium in Landover on Friday.

It was the Stags’ defense that kept them in the game and sealed the triumph with two fourth-quarter sacks. It was the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference opener for both teams. 

“Defensively, we played well all night,” DeMatha coach Bill McGregor said. “We’ve got an awful lot to clean up, but any WCAC win is a great win. We came out and did what we had to do and came back with the W.”

The Stags (6-0) answered the Eagles’ only touchdown by driving 70 yards in eight plays and scoring with 5:06 remaining. Junior running back Bud Coombs punctuated the march with a 20-yard TD. Seniors Mason Lindsay and Remy Robinson, along with junior Emmanuel Dyson, threw key blocks on Coombs’ tally. 

“We had the one big drive when we needed it,” McGregor said.

The march got off to an inauspicious start when Coombs lost five yards on the first play. Facing a third-and-15 from the DeMatha 25, junior quarterback Denzel Gardner completed a 17-yard pass to sophomore Lavar Keys. Two plays later the pair hooked up again for an apparent 52-yard touchdown, but the Stags were penalized for downfield holding. They did, however, pick up the first down. 

DeMatha junior quarterback Denzel Gardner takes off on a 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the Stags’ 14-7 victory over Gonzaga. He later led DeMatha on a 70-yard game-winning drive.
Photo courtesy of Ed King

Just prior to scoring, Coombs had a 19-yard run and finished with 17 carries for 73 yards. Gardner found Dyson in the end zone for the two-point conversion to put DeMatha up by seven.

“We calmed it down and slowed it down [on the winning drive], instead of playing so fast like in the first half,” Gardner said. “I trusted my guys, and we showed resilience.”

Gonzaga (5-2) took the ensuing kickoff and drove to the DeMatha 35, where they faced a fourth-and-8. That’s when senior defensive tackle Emmett Laws broke through and sacked Aidan Conrath for a 20-yard loss. 

“I just knew I had to dig deep and fight because I was tired and my leg was hurting,” Laws said. “But I just had to push through it and bring a burst.”

Following a Stags punt, the Eagles got the ball back at their 21 with 1:58 to play. Cody Williams broke up Conrath’s pass on first down, and then fellow senior Jordan Williams forced Conrath to fumble. The ball eventually went out of bounds at the Gonzaga 7 for a 25-yard loss. 

DeMatha senior defensive lineman Jordan Williams’ sack of Gonzaga quarterback Aidan Conrath resulted in a fumble and 25-yard loss. The play came with less than two minutes to play and essentially sealed the Stags’ victory.
Photo courtesy of Ed King

“We have a great defense,” said Gardner, who completed 14 of 22 passes for 156 yards and one interception. 

Laws finished with 2½ sacks. 

“He stepped up and did a heck of a job for us,” McGregor said. “He was all over the field. He was a one-man wrecking show at times; they couldn’t block him. He was absolutely fantastic.” 

DeMatha, which has won 16 of its past 17 games, got a 4-yard TD run from Gardner on its opening possession. The next time they got the ball, the Stags drove to the Gonzaga 12, but Gardner was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-two.

DeMatha started its next drive on the Eagles’ 15 but failed to score when Micah Veilleux missed a 31-yard field goal.

The Eagles went 61 yards and took their only lead early in the fourth quarter on a 6-yard pass from Conrath to Florida State recruit D.D. Holmes. Conrath had been injured on the first play of the drive. Kainoa Winston replaced him, rushed three times for 13 yards and completed a 35-yard pass to West Point-bound Conall Brannan. 

The Stags appeared to have stopped their longtime rival on fourth-and-3 but were flagged for roughing the passer two plays in a row to give Gonzaga first-and-goal from the 6. Its touchdown came with 8:52 to go.

“If you’re going to play WCAC football, you can’t make mistakes like that,” McGregor said. 

McGregor supported by great staff & wife

Coach McGregor used an electric scooter to get around Friday night as a result of the injuries he suffered when a player inadvertently ran into him at Tuesday’s practice. He blames himself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I saw it too late and I got launched,” he said. “I didn’t know where I was. Apparently I called [my wife] Brenda from the field, and I have no recollection of calling her.”

McGregor broke his pelvis in two places, cracked a rib, suffered a concussion and had a partially collapsed lung. He was taken to Washington Hospital Center and remained there until Thursday.

“It’s the most painful thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said.

McGregor credits his staff for finishing Tuesday’s practice and running things Wednesday and Thursday. 

“They’re the ones who came up with the game plan, offensively and defensively, and I just think they did a great job,” he said. “Will Weathers, Deno [Campbell], Luke [Casey] and Marvin [Brown] and all the other assistant coaches were absolutely fantastic.

“I can’t thank them enough for stepping up big time.”

McGregor also thanked his wife for, among other things, dressing him, driving him to the game and getting him on the scooter. “Thank God for Brenda; she’s an absolute saint,” he said. “I can’t thank her enough. I wouldn’t be anywhere without her. 

“So, if you give anyone some kudos, don’t give them to me. Give them to her. She’s special.”

WCAC rankings

The Stags held steady at No. 3 in The Washington Post Top 20. Good Counsel (5-1) moved up to No. 1. St. John’s (3-3) is ranked fifth, Gonzaga 10th and McNamara (6-0) 15th.

Next game

DeMatha, coming off a four-game homestand, travels to Olney to take on top-ranked Good Counsel on Friday at 7 p.m. The Stags downed the Falcons 28-14 last season. Good Counsel is probably the most talented team in the WCAC.

“That’s going to be a test for us; we haven’t been on the road for a long time,” McGregor said. “They’re a very good football team.”

Chris McManes covers DeMatha football for the Hyattsville Life & Times.