BY CHRIS McMANES — Ultimately, St. John’s 17-14 victory over DeMatha in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) semifinals came down to a handful of big plays.
The Cadets made them. The Stags did not.
“Credit St. John’s,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said. “They made the plays that they needed to make when it mattered.”
With the win in Northwest Washington, the No. 2 Cadets (8-2) advance to play No. 6 Gonzaga (8-3) at the University of Maryland on Nov. 18 for the WCAC championship.
The Stags (6-5), who fell from No. 13 to 19, played much better Saturday than they did in their 38-22 loss at St. John’s on Oct. 21. They had won the previous four WCAC titles.
“We came in expecting to win,” Brooks said. “We had our chances to win, and I think that’s what’s most disappointing. We had our chances, and we didn’t capitalize on them. But that’s the game of football.”
DeMatha began its final drive on its own 24 with 4:38 to play. A 27-yard pass from Eric Najarian to DeMarcco Hellams on first down brought the ball into St. John’s territory. After the Stags called their final timeout, freshman Sieh Bangura converted a fourth down with a 4-yard run and Marshawn Lloyd rushed twice for nine yards.
Facing a third-and-1 on the Cadets’ 28, Bangura was held for no gain. On the next play, Lloyd got stuffed on the left side of DeMatha’s line and was swarmed in the backfield for a five-yard loss. St. John’s took over with 1:52 remaining and ran out the clock.
Lloyd rushed 23 times for 118 yards. Bangura added 39 yards on 11 carries.
The Stags basically did a good job containing quarterback Kevin Doyle. He was held to 10 of 26 passing and didn’t hurt DeMatha as much with his freelance running as he did in the teams’ first meeting. He was sacked six times Saturday.
“The effort was there. The defense played phenomenally,” Brooks said. “Offensively, we were inconsistent, and that inconsistency came back to bite us when we needed it most.”
Doyle did most of his damage on long pass plays. The Michigan recruit averaged more than 20 yards per completion and finished with 223 yards and one touchdown.
“Those guys were making big plays, and we couldn’t establish a good pass defense,” Stags senior defensive end John Morgan said. “It’s just something that you’ve got to live with when you’re playing a great team like St. John’s.”
The Cadets got on the scoreboard first with a 20-yard field goal by Rafi Checa. They made it 10-0 in the second quarter on a 2-yard run by Keilan Robinson. The touchdown concluded an 80-yard drive in which Doyle had a 24-yard run and completed passes for 22, 20 and 41 yards.
DeMatha pared St. John’s halftime lead to 10-7 when Bangura scored from nine yards out by carrying several Cadet defenders into the end zone. The Stags went up 14-10 with 6:37 to go in the third period after taking over at the St. John’s 39.
Lloyd rushed for 14 yards on first down and followed with a 25-yard TD. The sophomore went up the middle, made a move to his left and reached pay dirt untouched.
DeMatha covered Joseph Hood’s ensuing kickoff well and made the Cadets start from their own 17. They got the ball to the 23 before Doyle and Co. took just three plays to go 77 yards. First, Doyle hooked up with Ron Cook for 33 yards. Then he found Robinson for another 20. The final play of the drive was a 24-yard aerial TD to Rakim Jarrett.
St. John’s used just 1:14 to go 83 yards and resume the lead. Neither team scored over the final 18:37.
Najarian, the Stags’ junior signal-caller, finished 7 of 15 for 74 yards.
“There were a few plays that we didn’t make, a few plays they did make,” Najarian said. “If those get flipped around it might be a different outcome, but that’s football. We were on the wrong end of the coin today, and it’s unfortunate.”
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha football for the Hyattsville Life & Times.