BY CHRIS MCMANES — DeMatha Catholic High School and Good Counsel waged another thrilling “Great American Rivalry Series” football game at Marvin F. Wilson Stadium in Landover on Friday night.
Just when it looked like DeMatha was about to seize control, the Falcons stormed back and had a late chance to win in the regular-season finale. But three clutch defensive plays in the final minute allowed the Stags to prevail, 28-23.
“They played exactly how we knew they were going to play; they were going to play us hard to the end,” DeMatha Head Coach Elijah Brooks said of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference contest. “We killed ourselves when we had the chance to put the game away, and we have to get better at that moving into the next round.
“But I’m proud of the way our guys found a way to leave with a win.”
The Stags (9-1, 6-1 WCAC) finished tied for first place in the WCAC and are seeded second in the playoffs by virtue of their loss to Gonzaga (9-1, 6-1). The Purple Eagles will face Good Counsel (6-4, 4-3) at the University of Maryland’s Byrd Stadium on Saturday Nov. 14 at noon. DeMatha will play St. John’s (7-3, 5-2) at 4.
The winners will meet for the WCAC championship Sunday Nov. 22 at 5 p.m. DeMatha, ranked fourth locally by The Washington Post and 18th in the nation by USA Today, has won the past two league titles.
The Stags took a 28-10 lead late in the third quarter when Lorenzo Harrison added another long touchdown run to his highlight reel. The 5-foot-8, 187-pound senior, who had a 92-yard TD against Gonzaga, went 70 yards against Good Counsel.
Harrison took the handoff and went right before cutting back across the middle. He made it to the left sideline and appeared as if he would be brought down, but he juked and broke two tackles at about the 10-yard-line and scored.
Falcons quarterback Andres Castillo scored on a 13-yard run to make it 28-17. DeMatha started the ensuing drive on its 42 and used a steady dose of runs by Harrison and Anthony McFarland to reach the Good Counsel 6.
Harrison, who had 18-, 9- and 10-yard runs on consecutive plays during the march, swept left but fumbled at the 5. Robert Galloway plucked it out of the air and ran 50 yards down the right edge to the Stags’ 45.
Two plays later, Mohamed Ibrahim – who rushed for 202 yards – rumbled 45 yards up the middle to bring the Falcons to within five points with 6:32 remaining. Good Counsel elected to go for two points, but Grant Donaldson tackled Castillo in the backfield.
Donaldson, who plays linebacker and is DeMatha’s punter, made a one-arm tackle to keep the lead at 5. Had the Falcons converted, they could have pulled to within a field goal of tying the game.
The Stags were forced to punt on their next drive but gained a first down when Ayinde Eley was called for roughing Donaldson. The 15-yard penalty moved the ball to the Good Counsel 43 and kept the visitors from regaining possession with more than five minutes to play.
The Falcons eventually took over at their 16 with 2:32 to go. They drove to the DeMatha 18 and called timeout with a first down and 57 seconds left. A bad snap resulted in quarterback Travis Nannen losing 12 yards. Chase Young, the Stags’ multi-talented defensive end, knocked down the next pass, leaving Good Counsel two more opportunities to either gain a first down or score a touchdown.
Cornerback Andrew Robertson, one of 30 seniors playing his final home game, broke up Nannen’s final two passes, one on the goal line and one at about the 5 to preserve DeMatha’s third straight victory. He was asked what Brooks told the defense during a timeout prior to the Falcons’ final play.
“He said, ‘You’ve got to make a play; it’s as simple as that,’” Robertson said.
The “Great American Rivalry Series” features 100 of the top high school football rivalries in the nation. Members of the United States Marine Corps presented the championship trophy to the Stags. Robbie Robinson received a medal as the game’s MVP, and was earlier honored by series promoters as the school’s scholar athlete.
Robinson, who came to DeMatha this year after playing at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Va., made his 2015 debut at running back Friday. Primarily a cornerback who’s heading to Arizona State, he rushed for 110 yards and two TDs, all in the first half. He punctuated the first quarter with a 58-yard scamper.
Harrison, a Maryland recruit, rushed 17 times for 173 yards. His 2-yard TD on the Stags’ first drive of the second half gave his team a 21-10 advantage. His combination of speed, quickness, power and agility allows him to get into the open field and shed tacklers.
“I just tried to play my part, get as many yards as possible, fall forward,” Harrison said. “I just came out and did my job.”
The win over Good Counsel gives DeMatha momentum heading into the postseason.
“We ended the regular season like we wanted to,” Brooks said. “Now we’re starting a brand new season, and we’re excited to move into the playoffs. … We’re in a good position, right where we want to be. We’ve just got to come out and seize the moment.”