BY CHRIS MCMANES
CHESAPEAKE, VA. — Following every DeMatha Catholic High School football game, Head Coach Elijah Brooks gathers his team on the field. The players take a knee. Assistant coaches are invited to address the young men.
After Friday night’s season-opening 42-7 victory at Oscar Smith, the coaches’ message was clear: We’re proud of you, enjoy the win and come back ready to work hard Sunday.
“Get off your feet [Saturday]. Maybe go catch a high school game back home. Enjoy time with your family,” Brooks told his sweat-soaked players at hot and humid Beard-DeLong-Easley Field.
DeMatha earned the day off. It had just manhandled what is annually one of the finest high school football teams in Virginia. The Stags showed the Tigers and their legion of spirited fans why they are considered one of the finest programs in the nation.
DeMatha, ranked as high as seventh in the nation and No. 1 in the Washington area, racked up 481 yards of total offense, 298 on the ground. Senior quarterback Beau English completed every one of his passes.
Brooks improved to 5-1 in season openers since taking the reins from Bill McGregor in 2011. He was pleased to open 2016 with a dominating performance over Virginia Group 6A’s top-ranked club.
“Oscar Smith is a very good team,” said Brooks, a former running back in the Hampton Roads area at William and Mary. “Don’t let the score fool you. They’re well-coached and have a lot of talented players. I’m proud of how well we met the challenge.”
English was 11 of 11 passing for 167 yards and a touchdown. Nine of his completions came in the first half as DeMatha bolted to a 21-7 halftime lead. He added 63 rushing yards and two touchdowns in one of the top all-around showcases of his career.
The intersectional battle started at 6:57 p.m. on a day when the heat index rose to as high as 103. Action stopped a number of times to tend to players suffering from heat-related muscle cramps. One severely dehydrated player left by ambulance.
All in all, DeMatha handled the humid conditions well. The Stags also benefitted from wearing white uniforms, which reflect more of the sun’s rays. By contrast, the dark uniforms Oscar Smith wore absorb more sunlight.
DeMatha senior Delante Hellams said his team’s two-a-day practice schedule and summer yoga classes prepared them well to withstand the heat. The Stags also made a concerted effort to run their no-huddle offense at a lightning-quick pace.
“We like to kill teams with our tempo because that’s what we condition for in practice,” Hellams said. “People can’t stay with us.”
The Tigers, 13-1 last year, recovered a fumble on DeMatha’s opening drive and moved 52 yards in eight plays to the Stags’ 11.
DeMatha’s defense, led by Ohio State recruit Chase Young, pressured quarterback Shon Mitchell to misfire on three straight passes. Austin Benoit’s 28-yard field goal sailed wide left.
The Stags responded with an 80-yard drive highlighted by two English completions to junior wide receiver Dominic Lyles. One was good for 16 yards. The other for a 39-yard touchdown. Lyles beat two defenders over the middle and caught English’s aerial at the 4.
Senior Gregory Torcaso made the extra point to give DeMatha a 7-0 lead with 3:12 remaining in the first quarter. He sent the ensuing kickoff to Khalik Perry at the Oscar Smith 1.
Torcaso and sophomore Joseph Hood give the Stags two outstanding kickers. They are both capable of putting the ball inside their opponent’s 10-yard line.
“You don’t realize how valuable kickers are until you don’t have a good one,” Brooks said. “Fortunately we have two.”
The Stags, playing for the first time since finishing 11-1 and capturing their third straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship, never trailed in Friday’s nonleague battle.
Senior Khory Spruill swept right untouched 9 yards into the end zone to make it 14-0. English ran one in from 41 yards out midway through the second quarter on a quick-snap rush that seemed to convince the Tigers that the play was either a dead ball or a penalty. Neither was the case.
English went up the middle, shook off one defender and ran unscathed to paydirt to give DeMatha a 21-0 lead.
“Everybody was a little confused, and I just took advantage of that,” he said. “My teammates did a great job of getting set, getting on the ball. After that I just tried to make a play.”
Oscar Smith showed how good of a team it will be this season late in the first half when it marched 92 yards to draw within 21-7. Mitchell completed passes of eight and 13 yards before finding Perry over the middle for 53 yards to the Stags’ 1. Jahmeek Jones scored two plays later for the Tigers’ only TD.
English punctuated a 15-play, 92-yard drive in the third quarter by running in from the 1. He completed a 14-yard pass to Lyles and an 18-yarder to Jermaine Johnson. He also scrambled for 12 yards to the Oscar Smith 2.
Spruill was barely touched on a 38-yard scoring jaunt, and senior Carlton Taylor rushed for 8 yards to account for DeMatha’s final points. Junior quarterback Tyler Lenhart led the 82-yard march, which included a 16-yard run by Spruill and a 13-yard scamper by Taylor.
Lenhart also rushed for 6 yards on a broken play and completed two passes. Hellams took a short one from Lenhart and went 36 yards to the Tigers’ 30.
English and senior tight end Grant Donaldson have committed to play at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Falcons coaches should enjoy hearing how English beat the Tigers with his arm, his feet and his command of the offense.
“Oscar Smith is a great team. We knew if we came in and trusted our preparation that they wouldn’t be able to stop us,” English said. “We can only stop ourselves. I’m not surprised with the result.”
The Stags host Avalon, a private school in Gaithersburg, Md., at Marvin F. Wilson Stadium in Landover on Friday at 7 p.m. The Black Knights lost their opener, 30-8, to St. Frances.
Minor Signing — DeMatha offensive lineman Marcus Minor announced on CSN Mid-Atlantic that he will sign to play for Maryland next year. The 6-foot-5, 291-pounder is considered a four-star recruit at tackle. He plans to major in broadcast journalism.
Anthony McFarland, who suffered a season-ending broken left fibula this month and will miss the season, is also reportedly considering Maryland. He attended Friday’s game with the aid of a wheelchair and crutches. The 5-9, 203-pound senior is ranked the fifth-best running back prospect in the nation.
Chris McManes reports on sports for the Hyattsville Life & Times.