BY CHRIS MCMANES — When DeMatha Catholic High School needed big plays Saturday, it turned to its defense. The group did not disappoint.

Clinging to a late seven-point lead, the Stags came up with a huge interception that led to a touchdown and then scored one itself in a 34-14 victory Saturday at Archbishop Carroll in Northeast Washington.

“We found a way to make a play when it counted,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said.

With the win, the Stags improved to 7-1 and 4-1 in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. They moved up one spot to No. 20 in the USA Today Super 25 Expert Rankings and held steady at No. 5 The Washington Post’s area poll.

DeMatha took a 21-6 lead into halftime against a much-improved Carroll team. One play after Luca Fazio missed a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, the Lions struck with an 80-yard touchdown. Quarterback Jermaine Waller found Laurence King open over the middle at about the Carroll 35-yard line and saw him race untouched into the end zone.

The Lions made the two-point conversion when King caught Waller’s batted pass to trim the Stags’ lead to 21-14 with 7:32 to play.

DeMatha, with Ty Lenhart at quarterback in place of Beau English from late in the third quarter on, went three-and-out on its ensuing drive, and Grant Donaldson punted 34 yards to the Carroll 23-yard line. Waller completed a 15-yard pass on first down, but consecutive penalties pushed the Lions back to their 27 and left them facing a third-and-21.

Waller dropped back to pass and, scrambling to his right to avoid the rush, threw the ball right to Stags’ linebacker Anthony Toro at the DeMatha 48. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound sophomore returned the ball to the Carroll 30.

“I dropped back in coverage, and our defensive line had good pressure and made him throw it off [target], and I was lucky enough to be under there and pick it off,” said Toro following his first start of the year. “I had some blockers and got as far as I could.”

“Our offense came out and they were pumped, and that’s what changed the game around.”

Following two runs by Anthony McFarland, Jr. and two penalties against the Lions, McFarland scored on a 5-yard TD run. Fazio’s extra point made it 28-14 Stags with 2:52 remaining.

The DeMatha defense, which did not allow a point for 10 consecutive quarters earlier this season, was not finished. Chase Young sacked Waller and forced him to fumble. Shane Simmons, who has committed to play for Penn State, picked up the ball and scored from 30 yards.

Young, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound junior defensive end and tight end, has received offers from many of the nation’s top football programs. He is considering, among others, Michigan State, Georgia, Ohio State, Maryland, Florida State and Alabama.

Brooks complimented Carroll, which fell to 4-4 and 1-4 in league play.

“Carroll played their butts off the entire game,” he said. “It was a slugfest for most of the game, and we found a way to make a few more plays. But hats off to them; they did extremely well.”

The Stags built their 21-6 halftime lead on a Colton Henry rushing touchdown, a quarterback sneak by English and a 59-yard TD pass from English to McFarland. Henry also fumbled at the Lions’ 1 in the first half, and the DeMatha defense came up with a goal-line stand in the scoreless third quarter.

The Stags were coming off a tough 24-14 loss to unbeaten Gonzaga and are tied for second in the WCAC with St. John’s. But DeMatha holds the tiebreaker over the Cadets by virtue of its 40-0 victory on Oct. 3. The top four teams make the conference playoffs.

The Stags host Bishop O’Connell (1-7, 0-5) on Friday Oct. 30 at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex in Landover. Game time is 7 p.m. Their final regular-season game is at home the following Friday against Good Counsel.

Brooks was happy to leave Maus Collins Field with a victory.

“At this point in the season, we’ll take a win however we can get one. So now we’re just going to win and advance. That’s our mentality – win and advance.”