By CHRIS McMANES — WASHINGTON – A minute and 19 seconds were all that remained in the WCAC Capital Division championship game Sunday night, and Good Counsel was on its 21-yard line trailing by a point. Sophomore quarterback Chase Williams was about to face the biggest drive of his life.
Williams drove the Falcons 64 yards, highlighted by a 51-yard screen pass to Sy’Veon Wilkerson, to position his team for a game-winning field goal. After Vince Errigo’s 32-yard kick split the uprights, the Falcons held on for a 16-14 victory over top-ranked St. John’s.
“Chase did a great job,” Good Counsel Coach Andy Stefanelli said. “As a young quarterback we told him don’t be too impatient on the screen. You’ve got to draw the defense in. It’s something that he wasn’t particularly good at earlier in the year, and he’s just gotten better and better at it.
“And at the critical moment, he made the perfect throw to our playmaker, Sy’Veon, who made a great run.”
When the Cadets (7-5) missed a desperation 49-yard field goal attempt into the wind toward Catholic University’s north end zone, the Falcons (9-3) had their first Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title in seven years.
“It was unbelievable. Great game, great opponent,” said Stefanelli, who replaced Bob Milloy in 2017. “Just a lot of big plays there at the end. Luckily, we got the last one.”
After savoring the victory on-field for nearly 30 minutes, Williams walked back to the locker room. He said the win was his biggest thrill in sports.
“For sure,” Williams said by the Catholic University pool. “All that’s really going through my mind right now is all the hard work I’ve done, my coaches, my trainers, my [Falcon] brothers, all the sacrifices I made.
“This is great.”
Good Counsel, ranked third at game time, had to rally after St. John’s had taken a 14-13 lead with 1:25 to go. When the Falcons got the ball back, Williams completed his first pass along the left sideline to Trace Campbell for six yards. He sailed the next one out of bounds.
On third-and-4, Wilkerson went off right tackle and fought for the first down at the 31. With the clock running, Williams took the snap with 47 seconds left. He jumped while lofting a short screen to his left to Wilkerson, who dodged through and around defenders for a 51-yard gain to the Cadets’ 18.
“It’s all about preparation,” Williams said. “My [coaches and teammates] have been practicing for that one moment. We talk about those big-time plays.”
Stefanelli said his strategy was just to get in field goal range for Errigo, who was named first-team All-WCAC. The completion to Wilkerson proved to be the team’s most pivotal play of the season.
“We said ‘let’s try to hit a screen here,’” Stefanelli said. “It’s something we haven’t been real successful at most of the year, but we’ve been working on it all season. And at the biggest moment, we hit the biggest screen of the year for us.
“It got us down there in that one big play. Then it was just a matter of lining up the field goal.”
Wilkerson, who rushed for 192 yards and scored four touchdowns in Good Counsel’s 44-14 victory over Gonzaga the previous week, is an outstanding running back.
“I’ve just got to put [the ball] in my playmakers’ hands, that’s it,” Williams said. “Sy’Veon made a great play, like he’s been doing all his career. He’s underrated, just shocking the world every day, every game.”
After the Falcons called their final timeout at the 15 with 18 seconds remaining, Errigo lined up near the left hash mark. His kick didn’t go very high, but passed through the uprights to give Good Counsel a 16-14 lead.
The Falcons’ celebration was a bit premature and resulted in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It almost cost them the game.
Instead of kicking off from his 40, Errigo had to set up at the 25. Sophomore Jamar Curtis settled under the ball at his 17 and brought it back to the Good Counsel 32. He could have gone all the way were it not for sophomore Cade Herdman slowing him down and junior Justin Smith bringing him to the turf.
Senior George Alvarez lined up for a 49-yard field goal into the wind. The kick at first appeared to have the distance and accuracy but fell short and to the right. Now, the real celebration began.
“That screen pass to Sy’Veon Wilkerson will be talked about in Olney for many generations to come,” former St. John’s three-sport athlete Kevin Ricca said on the 1st Amendment Sports broadcast. “He made the big play.”
Williams, 15, attended St. Jerome in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. He played baseball, basketball and ran track for the Jaguars. He and his family live outside Hyattsville. He began playing football at age 4 on a 6U team. His father, Claude, was his first coach and coached him until he was 12.
Williams began his first year on Good Counsel’s Olney, Md., campus playing JV. Late-season injuries forced Stefanelli to call him up to varsity. He started in the Falcons’ 30-14 loss to DeMatha in the WCAC semifinals. He has steadily improved since.
“It’s been a great process to watch,” Stefanelli said. “He’s gotten better. He’s such a hard-working kid and a wonderful kid. He takes coaching well – always working hard.
“As a freshman, it was a huge load to put on him in the playoff game. But even this year, to come in as the starter as a sophomore and have to compete with an upperclassman, it was just a great process to see him continue to get better.”
After averaging 15.5 points in its first six contests, the Good Counsel offense perked up to average 37.2 points in its final five games heading into the championship.
“We took a lot of criticism, and so did Chase, because our offense lagged behind most of the season. But we got better and better as the year went on and started scoring some points there in the big games at the end.”
The offensive onslaught began with a 42-35 victory over Gonzaga in five overtimes. Williams ran for two touchdowns and passed for one in overtime. USA Today said it was his “athleticism, determination and cool under pressure that ultimately made the difference.”
If not for the stellar play of the Falcons defense against St. John’s – led by Ohio State recruit Mitchell Melton and Kris Jenkins (Michigan) – they never would have been in position to win at the end.
“Melton and Jenkins showed the nation why they were named WCAC co-Defensive Players of the Year,” said Ricca, an All-American quarterback at Catholic in the late 1990s. “Those guys were dominant. The entire defense executed a tremendous game plan.”
Two third-quarter interceptions of St. John’s quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava (BYU) were huge. Good Counsel held the Cadets to a season-low 223 total yards. Their 14 points tied for their fewest this season. Maiava was sacked four times.
“The senior-laden Good Counsel defense was the decisive factor in the win,” Ricca said.
The day after the victory, The Washington Post moved the Falcons up to No. 1. They are likely to remain there.
Good Counsel’s last loss came against DeMatha, 30-17, on Oct. 25. Williams said that setback, in which they fell behind, 24-0, proved valuable.
“It humbled us, gave a smack in the mouth a little bit,” he said. “We know who we are. We just have to come out with energy all time. We came out with so much energy tonight. We were hungry.”
Williams, who comes from a deeply spiritual family, summed the night up best: “God is great. He blessed me and my [Falcon] brothers. We’ve been working hard all year for this.”
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) coached Chase Williams in baseball at St. Jerome.