Football: O’Connell aims to end second-half slumps in matchup with Gonzaga


Gonzaga quarterback Nick Johns, right, could be a game-time decision against O’Connell, which is looking to play better in the second half of games. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Whether it’s a lack of depth wearing out his players or too many turnovers, O’Connell Coach Del Smith can’t exactly put his finger on it. But there’s no denying that the Knights are a different team in the second half than in the first. In their last two wins, the Knights averaged 33 points in the first two quarters en route to easy victories. During their current two-game losing streak, the Knights have been tied with St. John’s and leading top-ranked DeMatha, only to fall by scores of 17-7 and 49-14, respectively.

“We’re still not where other teams are in terms of numbers, so with us fighting the injury bug like everyone else, you have to depend on younger guys to step up,” Smith said. “In the DeMatha game, we had four second-half turnovers that gave them the ball around our 20-yard line. Football is a numbers game and I like our chances much better if we make a team drive 80 yards than just 20 yards.”

With just three games remaining and the playoff picture beginning to take form, Saturday’s homecoming game against No. 9 Gonzaga (4-2, 2-0 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) is one with high stakes for O’Connell (4-3, 1-1).

A win would vault the Knights up the WCAC standings and give them a wave of momentum entering their bye week before facing four-time defending champ Good Counsel. It would also boost the confidence of a squad that’s been reeling since losing Boston College recruit Kamrin Moore, a senior running back/defensive back, for the season after he damaged his medial collateral ligament during the St. John’s loss.

But Gonzaga might be without a playmaker of its own. Quarterback Nick Johns left last week’s win against Carroll with an undisclosed injury and could be a game-time decision against the Knights.

In the effort to extinguish O’Connell’s second-half letdowns, Smith revamped his team’s practices this week to feature more competitive situations during the latter portion, when the Knights are a bit winded.

“We’ve had some of the best practices because of it and just being a bit more loose,” Knights quarterback Michael Galvan said. “Execution is the underlying theme for us. Gonzaga has some talented players, so we’re going to have to play smart and make better decisions, especially on my part.

With Moore out and the Knights not having made the WCAC playoffs in more than a decade, Smith knows the odds are against his team. But both Galvan and Smith believe playing with a nothing-to-lose mentality could be exactly what the Knights need to get back to their early-season success.

“We know what we’re capable of and you’ll see that this week because I believe we’re going to get things back right,” Galvan said. “It’s homecoming, it’s a winnable game and it could put us in one of the driver’s seats for a playoff spot, so we have everything to gain.”

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