By CHRIS McMANES — DeMatha is coming off its most dominant defensive performance of the year. The Stags will need a repeat performance-plus if they hope to defeat top-ranked St. John’s on Friday.
No. 2 DeMatha jumped three spots in The Washington Post Top 20 following its 32-2 victory Oct. 19 over then-second-ranked Good Counsel in Olney. The Stags (6-1) swarmed Falcon ball carriers and blanketed their receivers. Two of the five turnovers they forced resulted in same-play touchdowns.
“I thought our defense came out and executed phenomenally,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said. “They were aggressive, they were stout [against] the run and they did a great job forcing turnovers.
“So, without a doubt, I thought those guys played a fantastic game.”
The Stags, who have won six straight since losing their season opener, host the unbeaten and reigning Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Cadets at Wilson Stadium. Game time is 7 p.m. Rain is forecast.
St. John’s (7-0) is ranked as high as second nationally and has won 14 straight.
“They’re a very good football team, easily the best offense, the most explosive offense we’re going to see this year,” Brooks said. “They have playmakers all over the field on both sides of the ball. It’s very hard to find a weak link out there.
“We have a tough task ahead of us.”
The Cadets, who beat DeMatha twice last year, including in the first round of the WCAC playoffs, have played a tough schedule that includes wins on the road against the top-ranked teams in Alabama (Hoover High) and Missouri (Christian Brothers).
In addition, they handed Johns Creek (Ga.) and Miami Central their only losses of the year. The win over Miami Central, 37-34, came in a five-overtime thriller. Wide receiver Rakim Jarrett caught two touchdown passes for St. John’s, including the game-winner. Junior linebacker Mekhail Sherman was injured and missed the game, as did senior running back Keilan Robinson.
Junior quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava is in his first year at St. John’s after transferring from Kahuku High in Hawaii. He and Robinson, who’s going to Alabama, operate behind a strong and talented offensive line.
“They’re definitely explosive at the skill positions,” Stags senior Nick Cross said.
Cross and his defensive mates played an outstanding game against Good Counsel. After Marshawn Lloyd scored on a four-yard run, Dominic Logan-Nealy intercepted quarterback Darian Crawford and returned it 38 yards to put DeMatha ahead, 14-0, with 3:51 to play in the first quarter.
Following a 42-yard punt that went out of bounds at the Stags’ 1-yard line, the Falcons scored a safety when DeMatha punter Joey Hood was penalized for intentional grounding.
Hood made a smart play by getting rid of the ball as it was about to be blocked. Instead of giving up a touchdown, he free-kicked the ball from his own 20. It sailed 59 yards and was returned 12. Two plays later, Cross stripped the ball from a Good Counsel running back and took it to the house.
Eric Najarian, DeMatha’s senior starting quarterback, sent the Stags into halftime with a 29-2 lead when he turned a busted play into a 9-yard scoring jaunt. He completed 5 of 8 passes in the first half for 53 yards and rushed three times for an additional 26.
Najarian, whose college choices include several Ivy League schools, set up DeMatha’s first tally with a 29-yard completion to Kaden Prather. The 6-foot-4 sophomore caught the ball over the middle against double coverage.
Following intermission, DeMatha kept Good Counsel in the defensive pressure cooker. Sophomore linebacker Greg Penn recovered a third-quarter fumble and brought it back to the Falcons’ 14.
Good Counsel, playing without Kameron Snell, its starting quarterback, saw its final chance to score a touchdown vaporize on the Dancel Field turf with 1:22 remaining. Facing a fourth down deep in Stags’ territory, sophomore Colin Mobley and senior Khaydon Brooks combined on a sack.
DeMatha’s ball-hawking defensive play against a talented Falcon offense that features running backs Sy’Veon Wilkerson and Latrele Palmer, as well as wide receiver Cameron Hart (Notre Dame), helped the Stags avenge a 20-14 overtime loss to Good Counsel last season.
“Our coaches harp on having 11 guys to the ball,” Cross said. “We practice our pursuit drills every day. Just trying to make sure everybody’s hustling to the ball so you don’t rely on somebody else to make the tackle.
“We want to make sure the ball carrier gets to the ground every single time so they don’t have broken plays turn into big yards and touchdowns. We pride ourselves on flying to the ball.”
DeMatha will have its hands full in all three phases of the game against St. John’s.
“If we don’t execute,” Coach Brooks said, “it’s going to be rough.”
No. 1 vs. No. 2 Friday night from the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex in the shadow of FedEx Field. The National High School Sports Network will stream the game live.
Where else can you see a bevy of future college and NFL stars for $5?
“It’s phenomenal high school football,” Brooks said. “It’s going to be a great, great game. Terrific story lines and must-see TV.”
St. Jerome grad named All-American
Stags safety Nick Cross received his All-American Bowl jersey in an on-campus ceremony Monday. The presentation, primarily in front of players from all three DeMatha football teams, was held in the school’s previous basketball home, Morgan Wootten Gymnasium. The senior is among 100 players selected nationwide.
Cross, who has committed to sign with Florida State, is regarded by many as the best safety in the nation. He graduated from St. Jerome Academy in 2015 after helping the Jaguars capture their fifth CYO Mid-Atlantic basketball championship. He had never played football before becoming a defensive end on the Stags’ JV team that fall. He has started the past two seasons.
The All-American Bowl will be held in San Antonio on Saturday Jan. 5, 2019. NBC will televise it live. DeMatha’s Chase Young, a starting defensive end at Ohio State, played in the 2017 game.
Tim Tebow, who won a Heisman Trophy at Florida and is now in the New York Mets organization, is among previous All-Americans. Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson received the honor two years prior (2004). He is a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Alabama recruit featured nationally
Hudl featured DeMatha’s DeMarcco Hellams and Gonzaga’s Joseph Wete (Weh-tay) this week as part of its Contenders series. The nearly five-minute “D.C. Tough” video previews the Stags’ 27-21 win over the Eagles on Oct. 12. Part two showcases the game. Wete is a defensive end who has committed to Oklahoma.
Hellams, a future defensive back for Nick Saban at No. 1 Alabama, gave Crimson Tide fans a glimpse of his playmaking ability when he returned an interception 65 yards against Good Counsel and returned it to the 12.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior also caught two passes for 12 yards on consecutive plays during the Stags’ 64-yard opening scoring drive. DeMatha QB Eric Najarian targets him often.
Ranked WCAC teams priming for playoffs
Despite their two straight WCAC losses, including against St. John’s, Good Counsel (5-3) is still held in high regard by the coaches who vote in the Post’s Top 20. The Falcons check in at No. 5. Gonzaga (7-2) is sixth.
With a win against either St. John’s or 3-5 McNamara, DeMatha will clinch a home game in the four-team WCAC Capital Division playoffs. Good Counsel and Gonzaga will be the other two postseason participants.
WCAC moving to Catholic University
The Washington Catholic Athletic Conference is moving its 2019 football, boys and girls soccer, and field hockey championship games to Catholic University. Contractual details are being finalized.
This year’s Metro and Capital Division football title games are set for the University of Maryland on Sunday Nov. 18. Catholic U., in Northeast Washington, has the largest college campus in the District. A new, second lighted turf field and parking lot are being completed.
The Oct. 12 football game between St. John’s and Good Counsel helped convince WCAC officials that Cardinal Field could handle the crowd size that typically attends the league’s annual title contest. The U.S. Naval Academy has also hosted recent gridiron finals.
The remainder of the WCAC championship games, except for boys and girls basketball, are also expected to move to Catholic. American University will continue as the basketball venue for the foreseeable future.
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha football and basketball for the Hyattsville Life & Times. You can follow him at https://twitter.com/ChrisMcManes1.