BY CHRIS MCMANES — A phrase resonating once again within the DeMatha Catholic football program is “next man up.”
After losing one of the top running backs in the nation to injury during the preseason, the Stags didn’t have to go far to find Khory Spruill.
In DeMatha’s 55-20 romp over Avalon on Friday night in Landover, Spruill lived up to his top billing. The senior ran for 130 yards, 89 after halftime. And for the second week in a row, he rushed for two touchdowns.
“We made it a concerted effort to get him the ball more in the second half,” Stags Coach Elijah Brooks said. “He did a great job having some second-effort runs and making some pivotal runs, first down plays. He did a great job carrying the football.”
DeMatha is top-ranked in the area by The Washington Post. USA Today slots the Hyattsville school No. 5 in the nation.
DeMatha senior quarterback Beau English also scored twice on the ground and threw a TD. His 67-yard scoring aerial to Delante Hellams put the Stags in the drivers’ seat midway through the second quarter, 28-6.
The Black Knights, from Gaithersburg, scored eight points just before the end of the first half following Caleb Still’s 38-yard interception return. He would have scored had English not run him down on the Stags’ 4-yard line. Quarterback Quan Vines passed to Mason Standard for the TD and then hit Reggie Anderson for the two-point conversion.
“Avalon came out and played a fantastic game,” Brooks said. “They put us in some tough situations. I give them a lot of credit. Our guys made the plays that they needed to make at times.
“But definitely, the score doesn’t indicate how well-fought that game was.”
The DeMatha pass defense struggled much of the night, allowing all three of the Knights’ TDs. A 61-yard strike from Vines to Noah Taylor pulled Avalon (0-2) to within 28-20 with 4:12 to go in the third period.
“The front four, we did pretty well,” Stags senior defensive end Chase Young said. “The secondary, today we weren’t hitting on all cylinders. The game before this — [a 42-7 win at Oscar Smith] — we were. So we just have to get more consistent and be on track more.”
They responded to the Knights’ drawing within striking distance by marching 43 yards in four plays. The drive took just a little over a minute.
Hellams helped put DeMatha into Avalon territory by returning the kickoff 16 yards. A 15-yard penalty against the Knights moved the ball to their 43. Spruill burst through the line on the second play and hurdled over a couple defenders for a 17-yard pickup. Following an offside penalty against Avalon, English and Hellams hooked up for a 16-yard completion.
On first-and-goal from the 7, Spruill fought off a defender who had him by the jersey and found the end zone. Joey Hood’s extra point gave the Stags some breathing room, 35-20.
“If we don’t answer, I’m not sure how the game would have turned out,” Brooks said. “We made the plays that we needed to make, but we have a lot to work on going into next week.”
Spruill has become DeMatha’s featured tailback since Anthony McFarland’s senior campaign ended prematurely with a broken left ankle. It was the second year in a row the Stags sustained a major injury to a star player.
Wide receiver D.J. Turner, now a freshman at Maryland, broke his right fibula in DeMatha’s 2015 season-opening 38-14 victory over Miami Central in a game televised on ESPN. Spruill’s junior year came to a halt last October when he fractured his right leg.
On Friday at Marvin F. Wilson Stadium, Spruill ran in a 9-yard TD to give the Stags a 7-0 lead. Young, who has committed to play at Ohio State, scored 43 seconds later on a 26-yard interception return.
“That was an impressive play,” Brooks said. “He’s a talented kid, an All-American.”
It was the first touchdown of Young’s DeMatha career.
“Everybody was asking why I was running so slow, and it was because I was shocked,” he said. “When I scored, I was like, ‘Oh man, I just scored.’”
As off-kilter as the Stags defense was for much of the night, it did produce some big plays. Early in the second quarter, the unit allowed Avalon to advance to the DeMatha 4. Linebackers Anthony Toro and Detrick Washington then pressured the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Vines, and Washington notched a 12-yard sack.
Young chased Vines down and sacked him on the next play for a 6-yard loss. On fourth-and-goal from the 22, Vines failed to connect with Standard in the left corner of the end zone. Stags defensive back Judson Tallandier was in on the coverage.
On the Knights’ first drive of the second half, they moved to the DeMatha 20 but failed to advance on four plays. Linebacker Grant Donaldson, who will join English at the Air Force Academy next season, had a third-down pass breakup.
“We have to get better,” Brooks said, “but we made the stops that we needed to make.”
The Stags also need to improve their kick coverage. The Knights had kickoff returns of 55 and 58 yards.
“It’s much easier to make corrections after a win,” Brooks said. “Our guys know that we didn’t play the game that we needed to play in order to continue winning. So we’ll go back to the drawing board and get better and go from there.”
Next Up: DeMatha travels to Harrisburg, Pa., to play Bishop McDevitt on Friday at 7 p.m. The Crusaders (1-1) have won six straight district championships.
Chris McManes is an assistant baseball coach at DeMatha.