Quick-strike DeMatha improves to 3-0 with dominating second half
BY CHRIS MCMANES — D.J. Turner, Jr. might want to consider taking a speech or psychology class next year at the University of Maryland. He seems to be pretty good at both.
Turner, whose career at DeMatha Catholic High School ended in game one, delivered an impassioned halftime speech to his teammates Friday that helped spur the Stags to victory.
DeMatha, trailing 12-3 at the break, scored 29 unanswered points in the second half en route to a 32-12 win over La Salle College High School at Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex in Landover.
“Our leader, D.J. Turner, came over to us and gave us a phenomenal speech, and that really got guys going,” Stags quarterback Beau English said. “Guys really started to focus [and] settle in, and that’s what really inspired us.”
English threw two second-half touchdown passes for DeMatha (3-0), which is ranked No. 1 in the area by The Washington Post and fourth in the nation by USA Today. The Stags were playing for the first time since defeating two reigning Florida state champions, the last on Sept. 5.
The game was billed as the “Brothers Forever Classic” in honor of La Salle’s Travis Manion and DeMatha’s Brendan Looney. The men played football at their respective schools, were roommates at the U.S. Naval Academy and were killed in action.
Manion, a Marine, died in Iraq in the spring of 2007 and Looney, a Navy SEAL, was killed in Afghanistan in September 2010. They are buried side by side in Arlington National Cemetery.
The Stags took the second-half kickoff and marched 80 yards on seven plays in one minute and 35 seconds. Junior Khory Spruill concluded the drive with a 5-yard rushing TD to trim the Explorers’ advantage to 12-10.
DeMatha took the lead for good with 1:39 left in the third quarter when running back Lorenzo Harrison found the endzone from 16 yards out. The key play in the two-minute-and-10-second drive was a 38-yard pass over the middle from English to Kellon Taylor.
After Cole Williams sacked Explorers quarterback Christopher Ferguson and the Stags stopped Syaire Madden for a four-yard loss, DeMatha downed a punt at the La Salle 44-yard line.
This time, the quick-strike Stags needed just two plays and 20 seconds to find the end zone. Following a 19-yard pass from English to tight end Hamilton Day, English found Anthony McFarland in the left flat. The junior wide receiver got good blocking on his way to pay dirt and, following a two-point conversion, DeMatha had a 25-12 lead with 10:46 to go.
The Stags forced the Explorers into a three-and-out situation and went 48 yards in three plays to make it 32-12. Andrew Robertson took it in from 40 yards when he caught a short English pass in the left flat, outran the defense and made a late inside cutback to score.
DeMatha Head Coach Elijah Brooks was pleased with the play of English, his junior signal-caller.
“He did a great job in the second half,” Brooks said. “He was able to manage the game well, make the right plays and get us in the right position.”
Brooks also praised Turner – a Maryland recruit sidelined with a broken right fibula – for his halftime speech.
“D.J. Turner saved our season,” he said. “If he doesn’t get up there and say what he says to the team, we don’t pull that [victory] off. It’s just a testament to the impact that he has. Even when he’s not playing, he’s our leader.”
A Poor First Half
The Stags were plagued by eight penalties in the first half and allowed a safety when English took a bad snap from the shotgun and was tackled in the end zone. DeMatha was backed up to its 8-yard line after a holding call and personal foul on the kickoff.
“We weren’t clicking at all in all phases – turnovers, penalties, poor execution,” Brooks said. “Just a bad first half, and that’s not the way we play. We did much better in the second half, and we’ve got to get better as a team.”
La Salle (2-1) put together its best drive of the night when it covered 57 yards in 10 plays. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Ferguson began the march with two completions and later ran for 9 yards. After Madden rushed for 8 and 2 yards, a face-mask penalty gave the Explorers a first-and-goal at the 10.
Ferguson dropped back to pass and appeared to throw the ball away beyond the far right corner of the end zone. But 5-foot-9 Nicholas Rinella skied for the ball and caught it with his left hand. He pulled it in close to his body as his feet came down in bounds for a hilight worthy one-handed grab..
The reception gave La Salle a 12-3 lead with 5:48 to go before halftime. The Explorers got the ball back 43 seconds later following a Harrison fumble and tried to extend their lead as time expired, but Matt Savage’s 45-yard field goal was short.
“We can play much better than that,” Brooks said. “We played a half of football. Lord knows where we will be if we put together a complete game.”
DeMatha opens Washington Catholic Athletic Conference play when it hosts St. Mary’s Ryken of Leonardtown on Friday Sept. 25 at 7 p.m.
“We’re not satisfied,” Brooks said. “We can do a lot better, and we’re looking forward to getting better this upcoming week.”