BY CHRIS McMANES — The Washington Catholic Athletic Conference football playoffs begin Nov. 11. For DeMatha, however, it essentially starts this weekend. The Stags must win their next two games to get into the four-team tournament.
DeMatha finds itself in this predicament after a 38-22 loss to No. 4 St. John’s on Saturday. It’s the first time since 1994 the Stags lost to the Cadets and had a three-game losing streak.
“We’ve got to get a win in the league,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said. “That’s the only thing that matters right now.”
The Stags (4-4, 0-3 WCAC) travel to Forestville to play Bishop McNamara (0-8, 0-3) on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 2 p.m. They finish at Carroll on Nov. 4. The No. 4 seed in the WCAC playoffs is still ripe for the taking.
No. 14 DeMatha trailed most of the game against St. John’s (5-2, 3-0) and managed just 216 yards of offense. Penalties, which have plagued the Stags all season, often stymied their momentum. A lack of game-changing plays also hurt.
“We’re falling short on execution, and I don’t have a magic formula,” Brooks said. “We’re just not very good right now.”
DeMatha started off well at Fernandez Stadium in Northwest Washington when DeMarcco Hellams intercepted a pass and returned it 25 yards to the Cadet 3. Quarterback Eric Najarian scored two plays later.
St. John’s went up 14-7 after Ron Cook caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Doyle and scored on a 2-yard run. Rafi Checa made it 17-7 just before halftime by hitting a 22-yard field goal.
The Stags took the second-half kickoff and marched 80 yards in six minutes and 12 seconds. Najarian completed passes of 10 and 13 yards and had a 12-yard run on a read-option up the middle. Dominic Logan-Nealy added two 9-yard runs and freshman Sieh Bangura one. Nealy’s 1-yard TD brought DeMatha to within 17-14.
The Cadets answered with a 65-yard drive to reinstate their 10-point lead. They made it 31-14 early in the fourth quarter when Doyle threw a 34-yard TD pass to a wide-open Charles Briscoe over the middle.
Doyle, who moved to the area to play his senior year at St. John’s, was 22 of 33 for 266 yards, one interception and two TDs. He has committed to Michigan. The Stags sacked him twice but more often he eluded defenders by scrambling outside the pocket.
“I guess it’s the reason he’s going to Michigan,” Brooks said. “For many years, we made those plays. Guys got good pressure all day. We were close, but we’re just not making the plays we need to make.”
Najarian also faced heavy pressure most of the game and was sacked four times. He finished 10 of 20 for 102 yards and one interception, and was DeMatha’s second-leading rusher with 32 yards. Logan-Nealy ran for 62 yards and added a 16-yard score.
The Stags know that if they want to play in the postseason, they need to perform better than they have the past three weeks.
“For us, from here on out, every game is a playoff game,” Najarian said. “So, we’ve got to start with that attack-mode mentality and just go out there and start doing our thing.”
Running back close to returning
DeMatha sophomore Marshawn Lloyd was dressed for the game but did not play. The highly touted running back from Delaware broke two bones in his left forearm in the Stags’ season opener. He would like to play Saturday at McNamara but might be held out until the Carroll game.
DeMatha dropped to 15th in The Washington Post Top 20. The three WCAC teams they have lost to are all ranked in the top 10: Gonzaga (No. 2), St. John’s (4) and Good Counsel (7).
Ty for two
Stags quarterback Tyler Lenhart, who holds on extra points, threw a two-point conversion pass in the fourth quarter. Lenhart took the snap and instead of putting the ball down for kicker Joseph Hood, got up and rolled to his right. He found Anthony Hill in the end zone to narrow the Cadets’ lead to 31-22. Lenhart has started five games this season.
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha football for the Hyattsville Life & Times.