By CHRIS McMANES — Top-ranked DeMatha has a rich football tradition, replete with 24 Catholic league championships, All-Americans and NFL players. So, when the team does something historic, it’s worth noting.

This year’s Stags have become the first DeMatha football team to post four consecutive shutouts in a single season.

“You can’t ask for anything more out of our defense,” Stags Coach Bill McGregor said. “We’ve been playing great.”

DeMatha (5-1) will need another strong defensive performance Saturday in its Washington Catholic Athletic Conference opener, 2 p.m. at No. 4 Gonzaga (6-1).

The Stags string of shutting out opponents began at Catholic University on Sept. 13 with a 33-0 victory over Avalon. Early in the game, the Black Knights’ drove into prime scoring position with a first down at the DeMatha 1-yard-line. Eight plays later, they had been pushed back to the 9.

Senior defensive end Coziah Izzard ended the Knights’ final attempt to puncture the end zone with an eight-yard tackle for loss.

“They had a first-and-goal at the 1 and didn’t get in,” McGregor said. “I think that’s indicative of how we’ve been playing.”

The Stags’ next whitewash was perhaps its most impressive. Facing one of the top teams in Ohio, DeMatha completely dismantled St. Ignatius of Cleveland, 42-0.

“Guys are doing their assignment. They’re running to the football. They’re playing with intensity. They’re playing with enthusiasm,” McGregor said. “They’re making plays when they need to make plays.”

The Stags play a base 4-2 defense with four down lineman and two linebackers. They sometimes employ five defenders in the secondary but often two of them are better characterized as hybrids, part defensive back (DB), part linebacker.

“Even though it’s called a 4-2, we give a myriad of different looks and responsibilities,” McGregor said. “The hybrids are needed in today’s world. Even though you might be called a DB, you’re sometimes a linebacker. You might have to drop back in the box. It varies.”

DeMatha followed its third shutout, 34-0 over Life Christian Academy, with a 17-0 win over a talented Friendship Collegiate Academy. The Knights were ranked 13th at game time.

Izzard, who has committed to Penn State, is in his second year with the Stags after transferring from Pallotti. He said his current team reminds him of the 2016 Panthers, who recorded three shutouts in a 10-2 season.

“My freshman year at Pallotti, we had a lot of senior leaders on that team, and we dominated the whole season,” Izzard said. “I’m just glad I’m on another squad that has a dominant defense.”

DeMatha’s stinginess on defense begins with the down lineman. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Izzard plays alongside guys like Melteon Davis and Ian Froble.

“The whole defense has played well,” McGregor said. “First are the guys up front. You’ve got to be able to stop the run. Once you do that, it makes teams one-dimensional. Number two, when they have to throw, you have to get pressure. And we’ve been able to do that. So, they are very important to our success.”

The principal linebackers are Greg Penn and Hezekiah Faison. Saieed Myers leads the secondary. Sieh Bangura is one of the team’s few two-players. The junior lines up at linebacker and running back.

On the second level, you have your linebackers,” McGregor said. “They have to aid in stopping the run, but at the same time, they have pass responsibilities, too. In the secondary, although they primarily have to be good pass defenders, at times they have to come up and be run-support guys.

They’ve all been doing a great job.

McGregor also credits his defensive coaches, led by co-defensive coordinators William Weathers and nine-year NFL veteran cornerback Josh Wilson.

I think Josh, Will and the defensive coaches have come up with great game plans week after week,” he said. “They look at what [our opponents’] do best, what we have to take away and what position [our players] have to be in.

“It’s been a collective team effort to have the four shutouts.

DeMatha needs to blank one more opponent to tie the 1986 and ’98 teams for most shutouts (five) in a season. Both clubscoached by McGregorwon Catholic league championships. The ’86 squad finished No. 6 in the nation. It punctuated the year with three shutouts and opened 1987 with three more.

Andre Jones, an All-American linebacker on the 1986 team, attended Notre Dame and helped the Fighting Irish win the 1988 national championship. He was inducted into the DeMatha Hall of Fame before dying in 2011. He played in the Canadian Football League and for the Detroit Lions.

During the Stags’ current five-game winning streak, they have outscored the opposition, 162-6. A smattering of penalties, missed blocks, dropped passes and turnovers has kept the offense from operating as effectively as it can.

“You’re never happy with yourself offensively,” McGregor said. “We had a real good first half against Friendship, but I didn’t think we played as well in the second half. We were able to run the ball with Malaki [Anthony] for 93 yards. It’s a big help when your quarterback can run for 93, and he threw a screen to MarShawn [Lloyd], who took it took it all the way to the house.”

“I feel our offense and defense both need to get better on little things, but we’re coming on strong.” Izzard said.

2019 FB vs Friendship 035C 1
Senior linebacker Hezekiah Faison has helped the DeMatha defense post four consecutive shutouts, a first in the Stags’ storied football history. Photo courtesy of Ed King.

Lloyd, a senior running back whose big-play ability has sparked the offense, thinks highly of his defensive teammates. Since surrendering 35 points in California to St. John Boscoone of the top teams in the nationthe Stags have allowed just six.

“We have the best defense in the country,Lloyd said. “And they show it each week. Since the first game, they’ve just been getting better and better.

Izzard thinks the DeMatha offense benefits from practicing against such a stout defense. And vice versa. “How we compete with each other in practice and all come together as a team, that’s how we win,” he said.

Lloyd concurs: It naturally pushes the offense a lot more to [go against] the best defense because it makes us face the best of the best each week.”

Perhaps McGregor sums it up best: “Our defense has been sensational.”

Respect for Gonzaga

While DeMatha had a bye last week, Gonzaga sustained its first loss, 42-35 in five-overtimes at No. 4 Good Counsel. The Eagles have been ranked No. 1 by The Washington Post for much of the year.

“They’re a quality football team,” Stags Coach Bill McGregor said. “They run to the football. They make plays. They’re very active. They try to cause a lot of confusion, and they’re very well-coached.

It’s going to be a dogfight.”

The Eagles are led offensively by one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, junior Caleb Williams. He rallied Gonzaga to a 46-43 victory over DeMatha in last year’s WCAC Capital Division championship game. Aaron Turner, a junior all-purpose back, is another key offensive contributor.

“Williams is a great quarterback,” McGregor said. “Their offensive line is big, strong, powerful. They’re good pass-protectors, good run-blockers. Turner is a great receiver.”

Following the Stags’ 17-0 victory over Friendship Collegiate on Oct. 4, senior tailback MarShawn Lloyd said he can’t wait for the start of WCAC play.

“I feel like we’re getting better and better each week,” Lloyd said. “We’re performing at a high level. So, the WCAC is a great opportunity for us to showcase what we can do.”

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