BY CHRIS MCMANES— DeMatha Catholic High School football players were already close to one another. As they prepared for the Nov. 22 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship, their solidarity increased.

“We became closer at our last practice,” senior defensive end and Penn State recruit Shane Simmons said. “We expressed our feelings about the team. There were a lot of tears and stuff about how we feel about each other. That really helped us bond.”

That togetherness was on full display in the title game when the Stags dismantled archrival Good Counsel, 48-17. The victory was DeMatha’s 23rd league title and third-straight WCAC championship.

Senior cornerback Robbie Robinson, who’s heading to Arizona State, was in his first year at the Hyattsville school.

“I came up here five months ago not really knowing what I was getting into, but I bonded with everybody on the team,” Robinson said. “I can call everybody my brother. … To win a championship with your brothers means a lot.”

To reign supreme, the Stags had to overcome a midseason loss and disciplinary problems that sent some players to the bench. And, loaded with Division I talent, they carried the weight of high expectations.

“Keeping your kids focused and making sure they come out and produce every game is tough,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said. “But I thought our boys handled it as well as they could, and I’m really proud of the way they finished the season.”

The Stags began the year with victories over two of Florida’s reigning state champions, 38-14 over Miami Central and 23-22 at American Heritage in Plantation, Fla. The first game was televised nationally by ESPN, and the wins propelled DeMatha to a No. 3 national ranking.

The Stags improved to 4-0 with home victories over La Salle of Pennsylvania and St. Mary’s Ryken. Top-ranked locally, DeMatha travelled to No. 7 St. John’s and manhandled the Cadets, 40-0. The Stags’ defense didn’t allow a point in 10 consecutive quarters.

After a 52-47 shootout victory at Bishop McNamara, DeMatha met Gonzaga in a battle of unbeaten teams. ESPN2 beamed the Purple Eagles’ 24-14 win across America. The Stags hurt themselves by committing four turnovers and 11 penalties.

As Brooks gathered his dejected players, he told them they were still going to win the championship. He was right.

In the first round of the WCAC playoffs, DeMatha made it 22 in a row over St. John’s, 42-21. This set up another championship showdown with Good Counsel.

Maryland recruit Lorenzo Harrison ran for 243 yards and three touchdowns, and the Stags’ defense scored off a Robinson fumble recovery and an Austin Fontaine interception return.

“Gonzaga kind of slowed us down, but we went back to practice and knew that wasn’t the real DeMatha playing,” Harrison said. “We just came out and got ourselves together and continued to dominate.”