BY CHRIS MCMANES — (Plantation, Fla.) The DeMatha Catholic High School football team completed a two-game sweep of the reigning 6A and 5A Florida state champions in their opening two weeks of the season.
The Stags first beat Miami Central handily at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex. Then, the team travelled to Florida to defeat the American Heritage School by a score of 23-22. DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks chose to start the season with contests against nationally ranked opponents and said he is happy to come out 2-0.
“To beat two great Florida teams is definitely something that we’re proud of,” Brooks said. “But we’ve got a long way to go to get better.”
The Stags were ranked third nationally according to USA Today after their 38-14 victory over then-No. 2 Miami Central on Aug. 29 in Landover. The Stags led No. 15 American Heritage 23-9 with 5:30 to play, but the American Heritage Patriots scored two touchdowns and pulled within one with 53 seconds left.
Two five-yard penalties pushed the extra point back to a 29-yarder. American Heritage’s Oren Milstein, a top Division I prospect, missed wide right to allow DeMatha to prevail by one.
“We had to find a way to win,” said DeMatha junior running back Khory Spruill, who scored three rushing touchdowns. “You just can’t count us out. We always find a way.”
After the Patriots drew within 16-9 with 1:40 to go in the third quarter, the Stags answered with an 80-yard drive that Spruill punctuated with a 2-yard touchdown. Quarterback Beau English completed a 36-yard pass to 6-foot-6 junior tight end Hamilton Day, and Lorenzo Harrison added a 13-yard run during the 11-play drive.
“We couldn’t allow them to gain a lot of momentum, and for our offense to drive it down and get a score was key,” Brooks said.
DeMatha, which has to reduce its penalties, is ranked No. 1 in the Washington area. Its first two contests have prepared it well for a run at a third-straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship.
“The best thing you can do is play tough competition because it forces you to look at your weaknesses,” Brooks said. “We’ll re-evaluate some things, we’ll get better in a lot of areas, and we’ll move forward.”
The Stags’ preseason preparation included performing yoga in 105-degree heat. “It was worth it,” Spruill said. “In the moment, you want to quit but it really paid off.”
“From a mental standpoint,” Brooks said, “it gave us the discipline to find a way to get it done. I’m so proud of my boys.”
DeMatha handed the Miami Central Rockets only their third loss in 41 games and their worst defeat since 2012. The Rockets didn’t score against the Stags’ first-team defense in a game ESPN televised nationally.
In that game, DeMatha took a 3-0 lead on Luca Fazio’s 44-yard field goal before Harrison (a Maryland commitment) plucked a line-drive punt out of the air and returned it 39 yards to the Miami 1. English scored on the next play.
Kellon Taylor, who played on St. Jerome’s 2011 Mid-Atlantic basketball championship team, made it 17-0 midway through the third quarter when he and English hooked up for a 20-yard touchdown. English also scrambled into the end zone from 38 yards and threw a 21-yard touchdown to Andrew Robertson.
The Stags boosted the lead to 38-0 with 10:16 to play when Austin Fontaine blocked a field goal and Tino Ellis (Maryland) returned it for an 85-yard TD.
DeMatha’s defense, led by seniors Shane Simmons (Penn State), Elijah Johnson (Rutgers), Seun Oluwatimi and Robbie Robinson (Arizona State), had two sacks, an interception and dominated for most of the day.
“We definitely want to separate ourselves from the pack in this area and feel that playing a national schedule and having success against big-time teams will do that,” Brooks said.
The Stags are off until they host La Salle College High School at Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex in Landover on Friday Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. They will be playing without senior Darryl Turner Jr., (Maryland) who is out for the year.
“We’re heartbroken for him,” Brooks said, “but we’re going to rally together and get better.”
Chris McManes is a member of the DeMatha Alumni Association.