DeMatha’s defense plays key role in undefeated football season; Stags go for WCAC championship today
BY CHRIS MCMANES — The DeMatha football team’s offense has scored 42 or more points six times this season. In its two closest victories, by one and 10 points, the Stags’ defense was most responsible for keeping the club undefeated.
That defense will be tested again today when No. 1 DeMatha faces No. 4 St. John’s in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game at the University of Maryland. Game time is 2 p.m.
DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks will be attempting to lead the Stags to their fourth consecutive WCAC title. Prior to knowing who his opponent would be, he talked about what his team would have to do to win.
“We’re going to have to be able to execute,” Brooks said. “We have to be better staying on schedule offensively, moving the chains, stopping the run, continuing to force turnovers. We’re just going to have to play a solid game.
“Hopefully we have one more [victory] left in us.”
The Stags (11-0) enter the contest on a 16-game winning streak. Their run includes a 14-13 victory over St. John’s in Landover on Sept. 30.
The Cadets (8-3), who have not beaten DeMatha since 1994, could have tied the game late with an extra point. But after a penalty on the Stags moved the ball inside the 2-yard line, St. John’s first-year coach Joe Casamento elected to go for two points and the win.
The Cadets elected to hand off to Tyree Johnson, but linebacker Grant Donaldson broke through the line and made a diving tackle on Johnson. DeMatha got the ball back with a little over three minutes to play but was unable to sustain a drive.
Stags’ senior safety Myles Canton salted the win when he intercepted St. John’s senior quarterback Kasim Hill with 59 seconds to play. Hill has committed to Maryland. Johnson also excels at defensive end and will play at Texas A&M.
If DeMatha is going to win its fourth straight WCAC championship, defenders like Canton, Donaldson, linebacker Anthony Toro and defensive tackle Austin Fontaine will likely play key roles.
Chase and Catch
The Stag who could have the biggest impact on the game is senior defensive end Chase Young. The U.S. Army All-American will be playing his final game in a DeMatha uniform.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Young said following the Stags’ 28-13 come-from-behind victory over Good Counsel in the WCAC semifinals last week. “But it probably will.”
With DeMatha clinging to a 21-13 lead and plenty of time left for the Falcons to tie the game, Young all but guaranteed his team would be playing for another championship this afternoon.
Facing a second-and-10 from his own 30-yard line, Good Counsel quarterback Kameron Snell dropped back to pass. Coming in from his right defensive end position, Young blew past the blocker, hit Snell and forced a fumble. The ball bounced around before Young retrieved it. He had to stretch out his 6-foot-5 frame to get it past the goal line.
“That was a heck of a play by Chase, scooping the ball up with one hand and returning it for a touchdown,” Brooks said. “It was an outstanding play.”
Young joined the Stags in 2015 after attending Pallotti High School in Laurel. He teamed with All-American linebacker Shane Simmons, who’s now at Penn State.
Following the season Young was a reserve forward on the DeMatha basketball team. He will not play for Mike Jones this year, opting instead to concentrate on getting ready to play football for national power Ohio State. Coach Urban Meyer said he would like to see him add some weight to his 225-pound physique.
Young gives much of the credit for his success to Brooks, Stags’ defensive coordinator Deno Campbell and defensive line coaches Matt and Curt Ashburn. The one teammate he singled out for helping him to become DeMatha’s sixth All-American the past two years is injured senior offensive tackle (and Maryland recruit) Marcus Minor.
“I used to go at it with Marcus every day in practice,” Young said. “He’s one of the best tackles in the country. When you practice against the best, you can’t help but get better.”
Young scored the first touchdown of his career in the Stags’ 55-20 triumph over Avalon on Sept. 2. It came on an interception return.
“That was an impressive play,” Brooks said. “He’s a talented kid. That’s why he’s an All-American.”
Young considers himself just one part of DeMatha’s stellar defense. Toro said the unit is very talented, including the second- and third-stringers. That depth was on full display in the Stags’ 42-0 shutout of Archbishop Carroll on Oct. 21.
“Our coaches even say we’re one of the best to come through [DeMatha],” Toro said. “We fix our flaws every game to make sure we’re better and better every week. Everybody knows what they have to do. We play hard and never quit, and it usually works out.”
So Long Seniors
Minor and senior running back Anthony McFarland, who has missed the entire season with a broken fibula, will be on the sidelines supporting their teammates. Minor will miss his second game after suffering a spinal contusion at Good Counsel on Nov. 4.
McFarland was sifting through about 30 scholarship offers at the time of his August injury. Those schools included Alabama, Miami, Maryland, Penn State, Tennessee, Michigan and Ohio State.
Seniors playing their final high school games today include, among others, Young, Canton, Fontaine, Donaldson, running back Khory Spruill, wide receiver Delante Hellams, quarterback Beau English and offensive linemen Zach Lyons and Victor Oluwatimi.
English and Donaldson will play together at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“You work with these guys for four years, and at the blink of an eye, it goes by so fast,” Brooks said. “You wonder where time went.”
Brooks would like to see his players carry the memory of another league championship with them throughout their lives.
“This has been an enjoyable season,” he said, “just a great group of guys to work with.”
Chris McManes covers DeMatha for the Hyattsville Life & Times.