BY CHRIS MCMANES — DeMatha Catholic’s 24-14 loss to Gonzaga College High School Friday night in Landover may prove to be the wake up call the team needs.
Instead of getting caught up in their top-5 national ranking and reading about how great they are, the Stags can now focus on their principal goal: winning the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
“We can still win it all,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said. “I tip my hat to Gonzaga – they played a great game, and hopefully we’ll see them down the line.”
The Purple Eagles, who lost twice to the Stags last year, improved to 7-0 and 4-0 in the WCAC. They came into the game ranked 15th in the area by The Washington Post. Afterwards, they jumped to No. 2 and went from unranked nationally (USA Today) to No. 18.
DeMatha (6-1, 3-1), meanwhile, was top-ranked in the area and No. 5 in the country. It fell to No. 5 locally and No. 21 nationally. The game was televised nationwide on ESPN2.
“Gonzaga deserved to win,” Brooks said. “They beat us in all three phases. We have to get better as a team.”
Penalties, which have plagued the Stags all season, combined with four turnovers, undid DeMatha on Friday. The Stags were penalized 11 times.
“It was very difficult to get in a rhythm,” Brooks said. “We don’t have a lot of calls for second-and-20 and third-and-20, and then when we had short-yardage plays, we didn’t do a good job executing. There are no excuses being made; we just didn’t play well.
“Unfortunately, you have games like that. It just wasn’t our day.”
Senior running back Lorenzo Harrison gave DeMatha a 7-0 lead on its first possession when he scampered 92 yards for a touchdown. The future Maryland Terrapin appeared to be stopped on the left side, but he sprung out to the right, got a good block from quarterback Beau English and sped down the sidelines. At midfield, he cut back to the middle and easily beat three would-be tacklers.
Harrison ran 10 times for 179 yards.
After an exchange of interceptions and fumbles, Gonzaga quarterback Sam Brown found wide receiver Max Fisher open on a slant route for a 35-yard TD on the first play of the second quarter to tie the game at 7.
On their next possession, the Eagles drove 66 yards in eight plays to take a 14-7 lead. Running back Tyree Randolph had 13-, 10- and 8-yard runs during the march, and Brown completed two passes totaling 24 yards.
A face masking penalty against the Stags gave Gonzaga a first-and-goal at the DeMatha 5. Randolph punched it in two plays later from a yard out. The 5-foot-7 junior had 160 yards rushing and receiving.
Randolph, running behind a line anchored by senior center Dante Lopresti, scored on a 3-yard run with 5:30 to play in the third quarter to give the Eagles a 21-7 advantage. Lopresti, a 2012 St. Jerome Academy graduate and Hyattsville resident, had been playing guard all year but stepped in at center for an injured Derek Frahm.
Brown finished 17 of 22 for 222 yards, one TD and one interception. Fisher had four receptions for 75 yards and one score.
The Stags trimmed the deficit to 21-14 with 4 seconds left in the third quarter when Tino Ellis recovered a Harrison fumble and went 38 yards for the touchdown.
Gonzaga answered with a time-consuming 68-yard drive to the DeMatha 19. Senior Brian Johnson, who routinely put his kickoffs out of the end zone, nailed a 36-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 10-point lead with 5:48 remaining.
On their ensuing drive, the Stags drove to the Gonzaga 10 and faced a third-and-one. Anthony McFarland caught a pass but fumbled. The Eagles got the ball at their 12 and recovered another fumble when English (8 of 14, 83 yards) wasn’t ready for the snap in a fourth-and-6 shotgun situation.
“The one thing that we’ve been struggling with came back and snuck up and bit us –turnovers,” Brooks said. “We had four turnovers and  penalties, and you just cannot win a game against a good team like that.”
DeMatha will try to get back on the winning track when it plays at Archbishop Carroll (4-3, 1-3) in Northeast Washington on Saturday Oct. 24 at 2:30 p.m. The Stags will then have two more regular-season games left before the start of the four-team playoffs.