DeMatha football drops conference opener, 26-20

DeMatha quarterback Eric Najarian came off the bench and threw three fourth-quarter touchdowns in the Stags' 26-20 loss to Gonzaga. His first, a 47-yarder to Jermaine Johnson, capped a 99-yard drive. Photo courtesy of Ed King

BY CHRIS McMANES — In 2015, Gonzaga came into Marvin F. Wilson Stadium and defeated No. 1 DeMatha. The Purple Eagles did the same thing on the Stags’ home field Friday night in Landover.

No. 4 Gonzaga scored the game’s first 26 points and held off DeMatha’s late rally in a 26-20 victory. It was the Stags’ Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) opener.

“We got out-executed,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said. “They beat us in all three phases of the game for three quarters. They deserved to win tonight.”

The Eagles (6-1, 2-0 WCAC) were the only team to beat the Stags two years ago. DeMatha (4-2, 0-1) responded to the 24-14 loss by winning its final five games en route to the conference championship.

“This league is brutal, and I think I’ve seen it all in some capacity,” Brooks said. “While we wanted to win tonight, sometimes there’s a silver lining in all disappointments. I’m hoping that this group will respond. I’m hoping that this group will come out and work hard.

“We’ve got to get better.”

Gonzaga marched 64 yards on its opening possession and scored on a 3-yard run by Loic Sangwa. Freshman quarterback Caleb Williams was 5 of 6 for 53 yards on the drive. Stags lineman Austin Fontaine blocked the extra point.

The Eagles made it 12-0 when Williams threw a short pass that John Marshall turned into a 26-yard touchdown. Jason Labbe intercepted DeMatha quarterback Tyler Lenhart’s next pass after it bounced off a receiver’s hands and returned it for a 41-yard score.

Williams and Marshall hooked up again, this time for 37 yards and a commanding 26-0 lead with 4:43 to go in the third quarter. Williams completed 14 of 20 passes for 200 yards and two TDs.

The Stags missed a chance to go into halftime down 19-7 when Jermaine Johnson dropped a perfectly thrown 35-yard pass in the left corner of the end zone. It was one of several of Lenhart’s passes that should have been caught. He finished 9 of 21 for 72 yards.

Brooks decided to replace Lenhart with Eric Najarian at the start of the fourth quarter. The junior capped a 99-yard drive with a 47-yard TD pass to Johnson.

“We just needed a spark,” Brooks said. “It wasn’t anything that Ty did or did not do. We just had to get some life, somewhere, and we couldn’t get any worse. So, Eric came in and did a fantastic job.”

Najarian made it 26-13 by throwing a 22-yard scoring strike to Anthony Toro. Gonzaga was content to run the ball and take time off the clock. But a fumble by Sam Sweeney following a 37-yard run gave DeMatha the ball back at the Eagles’ 41 with 4:44 to play.

Three completions later, including a 12-yard TD to Dominic Lyles, brought the Stags to within six points. They got the ball back at their own 36 and drove to the Gonzaga 37 with 12 seconds and no timeouts remaining. The game ended with Najarian getting sacked by Malik Bridgeman.

Najarian ended 9 of 15 for 130 yards and three touchdowns. He picked up an additional 26 yards rushing. He said he and his teammates will continue working hard.

“We’ve got a great group of seniors,” Najarian said. “They really lead us and push us every day. We’ll just come back with our hard hats and get better as a team.”

Brooks also expects his squad to react favorably to its latest setback.

“I certainly hope so,” he said. “And if I know anything about DeMatha, I think our guys will respond.”

Brooks credits Eagles’ run defense

The Stags rushed for 195 yards (5.6 yards per carry) in their previous game, but Gonzaga held them to 125 (3.7 ypc). Dominic Logan-Nealy led DeMatha with 13 carries for 75 yards. Miles Miree rushed nine times for 30 yards. The Stags longest run was 18 yards by Logan-Nealy.

“I think you’ve got to credit Gonzaga,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said. “Coach (Randy) Trivers and his staff, they do a phenomenal job. They were ready, and they were going to make us throw the ball. That’s what every team is going to do. So, until we can prove that we can consistently throw the ball, they’re going to stock the box against us.”

College choices

Stags’ linebacker/tight end Anthony Toro recently committed to accept a scholarship to play at Delaware. Fellow senior tight end/defensive end Anthony Hill said he will play for Old Dominion.

All-American

DeMatha senior offensive and defensive lineman Austin Fontaine has been chosen to play in the 2018 Under Armour All-America Game. The contest is Jan. 4 in Orlando, Fla., and will be televised on ESPN. The 6-foot-4, 304-pound Fontaine has committed to play for Maryland.

New rankings

The Stags fell to No. 5 in The Washington Post Top 20. Gonzaga moved up to second.

Next game

DeMatha hosts No. 13 Good Counsel (4-2, 0-1) in WCAC action at Wilson Stadium on Friday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. It will be the Stags’ final of six consecutive home games.

Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha football for the Hyattsville Life & Times.