By Chris McManes

DeMatha senior defensive end Jason Moore enjoyed a new experience Nov. 11. His team won in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference playoffs for the first time in his career. 

With the Stags’ 28-7 victory over Gonzaga, No. 1 DeMatha (10-1) heads to the WCAC Capital Division Championship game on Sunday Nov. 20 to face second-ranked St. John’s (7-4). 

Game time at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis is 5 p.m.

“We’ve been working for four years and haven’t been able to get a playoff win,” Moore said. “To get it now and have the opportunity to play in the championship is amazing.” 

The Stags were tied at 7 before pulling away for their 10th consecutive victory. DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor wasn’t surprised at how tough a game it was.

“To play somebody a second time is a really hard ballgame,” McGregor said. “Gonzaga is an outstanding football team, incredibly well-coached. It was a dogfight. I’m just happy to move on and go to the next game.”

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The DeMatha defense, which recorded four shutouts this season, allowed just 15 yards rushing against Gonzaga. The Stags held the Eagles to 1 of 11 on third down conversions. Courtesy of Ed King

The Stags downed St. John’s 17-14 on Oct. 22 in Northwest Washington. The Cadets scored with 21 seconds remaining and then recovered the onside kick. Moore preserved the victory by running down running back Da’Juan Riggs at the DeMatha 5-yard-line following a 35-yard run. 

“Jason is incredibly athletic,” McGregor said. “That’s the reason he’s going to Ohio State.”

St. John’s is the reigning WCAC Capital champion and is in the title game for the third straight full season. It advanced last week with a 14-10 victory at Good Counsel. 

The last time the Stags and Cadets hooked up in the finale (2016), DeMatha rallied for a 34-29 victory. 

When the two longtime foes last met in the playoffs (2019), St. John’s won at home, 34-20. The league didn’t hold playoffs in 2020. Last season, the Stags lost to Good Counsel in the WCAC semifinals, 17-15. 

No. 12 Archbishop Carroll plays St. Paul VI for the Metro Division championship at 11:30 a.m. It will be the first WCAC title game at Navy since 2012.

Moore, a first-team All-Met last season, is a prime contender for Washington Post Defensive Player of the Year. He will be donning his DeMatha uniform for the final time Sunday.

“It’s crazy to think about,” he said. “It’s been a long journey, so there’s definitely a lot of emotions behind it. I’m excited to get to the championship game.” 

DeMatha 28, Gonzaga 7 – Brendon Wyatt rushed for three touchdowns for the second consecutive week to power the Stags at Wilson Stadium in Landover. 

Wyatt’s first score came on a 61-yard run to put DeMatha up 14-7 in the third quarter. The senior 195-pounder broke two tackles and almost lost his balance before sprinting down the left sideline. He closed the scoring in the final period with 3- and 7-yard TDs.

Wyatt rushed 19 times for 154 yards. Junior Tovani Mizell added 13 totes for 62 yards. 

DeMatha took the opening kickoff and marched 73 yards to score on a 25-yard run by quarterback Denzel Gardner. The Eagles tied it on Aidan Conrath’s 8-yard completion to Burke Carroll. The Stags punted four times in the first half and had one partially blocked.

“We looked great on the opening drive, and after that we looked like we never played football,” McGregor said. “Gonzaga made an adjustment or two, and it was really tough. They did a heck of a job.” 

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Junior Tovani Mizell rushed for 62 yards in DeMatha’s 28-7 playoff win over Gonzaga. In the Stags’ 27-3 victory against the Eagles in October, he ran for 106 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown. Courtesy of Ed King

Tied at the break, McGregor told his team they would have to answer the challenge if they wanted to get to the title game.

“We came out in the second half and played really good football,” he said. “We imposed our will offensively, were able to run the ball. Then defensively we were able to shut ’em down.” 

Senior Tawfiq Byard, who has committed to South Florida, ended the Eagles’ final scoring opportunity with an interception on his own 1. His brother, Kevin, plays for the Tennessee Titans. 

Quarterback shines – Gardner, a sophomore and two-year starter, has performed well directing DeMatha’s high-powered, run-heavy offense. In the Stags’ 28-14 victory over Good Counsel on Nov. 4, he was 7 of 10 passing for 104 yards, including a 53-yard TD to Cody Williams.

In a 34-0 win over Friendship Collegiate in September, he displayed his versatility on three consecutive plays. First, he rushed for 15 yards, then completed a 14-yard pass to Kristian Tate. Gardner punctuated the five-play, 68-yard drive with a 37-yard scoring jaunt. 

“Denzel’s been playing great football for us,” McGregor said. “He’s a year older, a year more mature. His future’s still in front of him. Each game he’s getting better and better. It’s tough to be a sophomore in this league and do what he’s done. 

“I’m very, very pleased with what he’s doing.” 

Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha football for the Hyattsville Life & Times.