DeMatha, St. John’s advance to WCAC football championship with close semifinal wins

November 10, 2013

The moment Good Counsel’s pass hit the turf at Byrd Stadium, signaling the end of a wild Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinal on Sunday, DeMatha’s Cameron Phillips broke into a joyous sprint toward the opposite end zone.

At first, the senior wide receiver was alone, pumping his fist toward the sky. But soon, a pack of his DeMatha teammates caught up to Phillips and piled onto his back, just as they had done moments earlier during the critical stages of a 29-28 overtime victory.

With the win, top-ranked DeMatha advanced to Saturday’s WCAC championship against No. 18 St. John’s, which beat Gonzaga, 17-10, in the first semifinal.

After dismantling Good Counsel in their first meeting this season, DeMatha quickly found that the four-time defending champion Falcons wouldn’t easily be knocked off their perch.

Good Counsel (6-5) pulled from its reserves on a 29-yard touchdown run by sophomore fullback Jonathan Wanat, its experience via a defense that held DeMatha (10-1) scoreless for almost three quarters and its resolve with two late fourth-down conversions.

The Cadets advance to the WCAC Championship as they top the Eagles, 17-10. (Video by Andrew Kloc for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

But Phillips ensured that DeMatha remained close. After being blanketed for much of the first half, the Virginia Tech recruit snagged consecutive touchdown passes to put DeMatha up 15-14 midway through the fourth quarter.

“We started slow, but the guys came to me and said, ‘We need you, Cam,’ and I worked hard to step up my game,” said Phillips, who finished with 11 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns.

The teams traded touchdowns in the final three minutes, with Myles Robinson catching a 53-yard pass on fourth down for Good Counsel and DeMatha’s Taiwan Deal scoring on a two-yard run to force overtime.

On the Stags’ first overtime play, they immediately turned to Phillips, who juked his way to a 25-yard touchdown. Good Counsel responded behind the power running of Chris Dawson, who scored from one yard out. But the Falcons’ two-point conversion pass fell incomplete, allowing DeMatha to escape with its eighth straight win.

ST. JOHN’S 17, GONZAGA 10:

The Cadets batted down a Hail Mary pass on the final play to preserve the win over the Eagles in Sunday’s first WCAC semifinal.

Gonzaga blocked a long St. John’s field goal attempt to set up one last comeback try in the final 90 seconds, but St. John’s cornerback Omar Truitt said he welcomed the pressure-filled moment.

“We know we’re the number one defense in the WCAC, so to have the game come down on us making a stop, that’s just fine for us,” Truitt said. “We get excited for that.”

Their excitement continued through the final whistle, and it was the second straight week St. John’s beat Gonzaga in dramatic fashion. The Cadets needed a goal-line stand in the regular season finale on Nov. 2 to emerge victorious.

Initially on Sunday, the St. John’s defense looked out sorts. On Gonzaga’s second play from scrimmage, Reggie Corbin broke several tackles before dashing 35 yards for a touchdown.

The Cadets’ offense also struggled, throwing an interception and picking up just two first downs in the opening period. But St. John’s (9-2) was able to stymie the Eagles’ momentum in the second quarter when Billy McCaffrey found Ayron Monroe across the middle for a 62-yard touchdown. The Cadets scored again on a 12-yard run by Omar Garcia to take their first lead midway through the third quarter.

Meantime, Gonzaga (6-5), which was without starting quarterback Nick Johns (shoulder) and wide receiver Jabari Greenwood (knee) for the second straight week, struggled to move downfield. St. John’s stopped the Eagles on all four of their fourth-down attempts, with Eric Assoua accounting for two sacks and forcing a fumble that set up a 35-yard Joe Giglio field goal that gave the Cadets enough cushion for the win.

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