By CHRIS McMANES — DeMatha quarterback Eric Najarian played perhaps his finest game Friday night in the Stags’ 53-6 pummeling of Avalon on Homecoming. It was DeMatha’s top offensive performance this season.
“The offense as a whole had a really good night,” said Najarian, who led the Stags to points on their first five possessions. “I’m happy to have that momentum going into league play.”
Avalon entered the game 3-0 but was overmatched by the No. 7 Stags, who won their fourth straight to improve to 4-1. DeMatha has a bye this week before beginning Washington Catholic Athletic Conference play Oct. 12 against Gonzaga.
Najarian completed 9 of 13 passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns. He sat out the second half after having a hand in 20 of the Stags’ first 32 points.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said. “Eric is talented. He’s played enough football for us [that] when we give him the go-ahead to make plays, he does a good job.”
The Stags began the scoring parade on their first possession with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Najarian to DeMarcco Hellams. Jermaine Johnson made it 14-0 by gathering a 24-yard pass against double coverage in the right corner of the end zone.
DeMatha began its next drive on its own 42-yard line with Najarian, under pressure, throwing a 27-yard pass to sophomore Kaden Prather. On third and 11, Najarian got knocked down just before tossing a screen pass to Da’Jon Butler.
The sophomore running back took the ball 30 yards to the 2 and scored from there a play later. A two-point conversion from Najarian to junior Ethan Royer followed.
Senior kicker Joey Hood added a 30-yard field goal to make it 25-0 with 9:54 to go before halftime. Hood, who has received mutual interest from Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., put three kickoffs into the end zone and launched a 51-yard punt.
Johnson punctuated the Stags’ first-half scoring onslaught with a 21-yard scoring strike from Najarian. The 5-10 senior spun all the way around in the end zone to make a superb catch.
Prather, who, like Najarian, stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 196 pounds, caught two passes for a team-leading 86 yards. His other reception was a 59-yard catch-and-run TD from reserve quarterback Jayden Bender.
Junior Edward Core made three catches for 43 yards. He and Ryan Cammas completed the scoring when they connected from 26 yards.
“Our receiving corps is great,” Najarian said. “They make my job really easy. We have a bunch of playmakers. If I see a one-on-one matchup, I’m confident that my guy is going to come down with the ball.”
With a banged-up offensive line and injury to running back Marshawn Lloyd, the Stags are no longer primarily a run-first team.
Najarian said the offense will do “whatever it takes” to win.
“If we’re not getting the run game going, which I’m confident we will, tonight it was the pass game that kind of got us going,” he said. “So, if that’s what it has to be, that’s what it will be. Some games down the road, we know that we’re going to have to power the ball.
“I’m confident that we’ll do that in those situations.”
Coach Elijah Brooks welcomes the bye this week so his injured players can have more time to heal. He’s also using the four practice days to continue developing the offensive line. Particularly in the rushing game.
“It’s taken us a little bit more time up front to kind of start clicking,” Brooks said. “We’ve yet to have a consistent, healthy group up front, and I think that’s impacting our continuity. So, we’re forced to do some different things and lean on our strengths.”
Eric Najarian agrees that he’s playing with a boatload of confidence in his ability to lead DeMatha. He split starting quarterback duties in 2017 with Tyler Lenhart, who’s now playing at Columbia.
“Confidence is a big thing for me,” Najarian said. “You always play better when you have it.”
The Stags came into the Avalon contest after a 27-18 victory over Friendship Collegiate. Offensive execution in the first half of that game was not up to DeMatha standards.
“I tried to carry over from what we showed in the second half against Friendship,” Najarian said. “I think we did a great job of that. I’d like to take that into the league.”
Senior Nick Cross, who just started playing football three years ago, scored his first touchdown Friday when he intercepted Clay Vance’s pass and returned it 34 yards.
The 6-1, 208-pound strong safety is tough against the run and the pass. It’s what led more than 30 schools to offer him a college scholarship before he settled on Florida State.
Joe Sego, Cross’ basketball coach at nearby St. Jerome, enjoyed seeing his former star play for the first time this season. The pair won the prestigious 2015 CYO Boys 14U Mid-Atlantic City Championship. Thai’re Vance, a senior on the Stags basketball team, also contributed to Sego’s third city title.
DeMarcco Hellams is not only one of DeMatha’s top wide receivers, he’s the starting free safety. The Alabama recruit supplemented Friday’s TD catch with an interception. He and Cross are two of the regions finest athletes.
“They’re both playing at a very high level,” Brooks said. “They’re great senior captains and make play after play each game. It’s good for them and good for us.”
Washington Post Top 20
St. John’s held on to the top spot by improving to 5-0. Gonzaga (6-0) is No. 2, and Good Counsel (4-1) is fifth. The Stags stayed at No. 7.
Gonzaga hosts Good Counsel on Saturday at 2 p.m. St. John’s is home against McNamara.
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) is an award-winning sports writer for the Hyattsville Life & Times. He began covering DeMatha football in 2015.