By Chris McManes

In a battle between two Washington Catholic Athletic Conference heavyweights Friday night, No. 4 DeMatha stopped No. 5 St. John’s on two plays along the goal line to leave Wilson Stadium with a 21-14 victory in overtime. 

On third-and-goal from the 1, DeMatha dropped Cadet running back Da’Juan Riggs for a 1-yard loss. On fourth down, Riggs was met by a herd of Stags and stopped at the 1.

DeMatha senior defensive tackle Emmett Laws corrals running back Da’Juan Riggs in the Stags’ overtime victory against St. John’s. Laws will play next year at Virginia Tech. Riggs is heading to Oregon.
Photo courtesy of Ed King

Defensive tackle Emmett Laws made the initial hit and was joined by linebackers Noah Chambers and Antonio Greene. Cody Williams, who moments earlier had caught a touchdown pass, came up to stop Riggs’ second effort inside the 1. 

“They were trying to put all their [offensive] linemen on me, and I just had to make a play,” said Laws, a 270-pound senior who’s heading to Virginia Tech. “My teammates came in there, and we did it.”

DeMatha had the ball first in the extra session. On second-and-7, junior quarterback Denzel Gardner lofted a perfect 22-yard spiral to Williams in the left corner of the end zone. Williams had eluded two defenders after running a slot fade. 

St. John’s (4-4) put itself in prime scoring position in overtime with back-to-back 9-yard runs by Breyon Williams. After he lost three yards on the next play, Riggs ran 9 yards to the 1. That’s when the Stags dug deep and prevented Riggs – an Oregon recruit – from reaching the end zone on consecutive carries. 

“I think we showed a lot of grit, a lot of toughness here,” DeMatha coach Bill McGregor said. “They had two plays and didn’t get in. St. John’s is a real good football team; they’re big, strong and defending champion. You’ve got to play really well to beat ‘em. 

“Fortunately, we came out on top today.” 

The Stags went 84 yards on their second possession to take a 7-0 lead. Gardner completed passes of 29 yards to junior Vinny Ordenes and 9 yards to Williams. Junior Bud Coombs had runs of 11 and 12 yards, and senior Remy Robinson scored from a yard out with 3:49 to play in the first quarter.

DeMatha wide receiver Vinny Ordenes caught four passes for 44 yards, including a 29-yarder, from fellow junior Denzel Gardner in the Stags’ 21-14 win over St. John’s.
Photo courtesy of Ed King

The Cadets tied it on their next series when quarterback Isaiah French found a wide-open Reece Williams for a 66-yard TD. French was 3-for-3 for 83 yards on the five-play drive.

The teams went into halftime tied at 7. DeMatha surged ahead 14-7 when 15- and 36-yard
runs by Coombs helped push the ball to the St. John’s 2. Sophomore Elijah Lee scored from there on third down.

Eleven seconds later, French completed an 80-yard pass to Jason Woods to level the game at 14. 

A 36-yard pooch punt by French put the Stags on their own 3 with 5:35 left in the fourth quarter. On third-and-8 from the 5, Gardner avoided a loss in the backfield and broke four tackles for a 28-yard gain. 

The pickup put DeMatha in position to punt four plays later from its 39 instead of deep in its own territory. Senior Micah Veilleux hit a 32-yard punt to the Cadets’ 29. They were only able to gain six yards before the end of regulation.

Except for the two long touchdown passes, the Stags’ defense played well. They forced five punts, sacked French three times, and junior Jacob Wallace recovered a fumble. 

“The defense has done really well all season,” McGregor said. “It’s always been a trademark at DeMatha. Hats off to the defense; hats off to our defensive coaches. They put a lot of work in, and it paid off tonight.”

Extra time

St. John’s defeated the Stags in last year’s WCAC Capital Division championship 7-3. The clubs are liable to meet again in the first round of the playoffs. DeMatha was playing in its third overtime game of the year. The Stags downed Roman Catholic 25-23 and lost to Good Counsel 35-28. 

“It was a typical WCAC football game. It came down to the very end and could have gone either way,” McGregor said. “We’ve had three overtimes now, and all three could have gone any way.” 

Statistically speaking

Coombs rushed 23 times for 124 yards. He had four runs of 11 yards or better and only lost yardage twice. 

“Bud’s a great player,” McGregor said. “He plays big; he competes week in and week out. He goes hard in practice, and he’s an outstanding football player. I think the world of Bud.”

Gardner ran 10 times for 51 yards. He was sacked once for a 4-yard loss, officially giving him 11 rushes for 47 yards. Whereas in the NFL, sack yardage is deducted from the team’s passing total, in high school and college it counts as a rush for the quarterback. 

Through the air, Gardner was 11 of 17 for 94 yards and one TD. ESPN named him DeMatha’s Player of the Game and interviewed him after the contest. 

Ordenes had four receptions for 44 yards, and Cody Williams caught three balls for 32 yards, including the game winner. 

Smile for the camera

The start of the game, billed as the Geico ESPN High School Football Showcase, was televised on ESPNU before switching to ESPN2. The teams don’t get paid to be on, but receive thousands of dollars in free national advertising.

“We’re very thankful and proud to be on ESPN,” McGregor said. “It’s a great tribute to our program, a great tribute to our school. We’re very honored that they selected this game. I’m honored to be on ESPN anytime.

“I want to say thank you to the ESPN crew and thank you to their management. We appreciate them considering us this year.”

Like hitting the lottery

McGregor, who is still recovering from serious injuries he sustained during practice Oct. 3, was asked how he felt after the game.

“Right now, I feel like a million dollars,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight after I unwind a little bit, but right now you can’t feel any better. W’s help you feel a little better every day and heal a little faster.”

WCAC rankings

The Stags moved back to No. 3 in The Washington Post Top 20. Good Counsel (6-1) remained No. 1. St. John’s is 7th, Gonzaga (6-2) 10th and McNamara (6-2) 18th

The top 4 teams qualify for the WCAC Capital Division playoffs. As of this writing, McNamara would be on the outside looking in. 

Title games set

The WCAC Metro Division championship is Friday Nov. 17 at Wilson Stadium in Landover. 

The Capital Division semifinal winners will battle it out Tuesday Nov. 21 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. The league would have preferred a weekend game but couldn’t find an available venue.

Next game

DeMatha closes the regular season at McNamara (Forestville, Md.) on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Mustangs lost to Gonzaga last week 17-8. 

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