As DeMatha’s football team congregated on the field following a thrilling 29-28 overtime win against Good Counsel, a sense of joy spread across some of the players and coaches. Not only had the Stags knocked off four-time defending champion, Good Counsel but they had shown resilience and unity along the way, resulting in some teary eyes and plenty of celebration.
In the next days, however, as they reviewed game film, the top-ranked Stags were quickly reminded that there is still work to be done. Featured on the screen was St. John’s, the team that played the Stags the closest during their undefeated run through the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference regular-season slate and the team that now stands in the way of DeMatha winning its first conference title since 2008 when they meet Saturday at the University of Maryland’s Byrd Stadium.
“The first time around, we had a lot of issues with their defense,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said. “They sacked us a bunch of times and we had a tough time running the ball. We understand that our ultimate goal is right in front of us, and we want to make sure we finish the journey, but we definitely have our work cut out for us.”
The No. 16 Cadets’ strong defense and big-play ability has been on display the last two weeks in wins against rival Gonzaga. After using a goal-line stand to seal a Nov. 2 victory, St. John’s stifled Gonzaga in Sunday’s WCAC semifinal by stuffing the Eagles on all four of their fourth-down tries and reeling off 17 unanswered points in a 17-10 win.
While slowing down dual-threat quarterback Will Ulmer will be a focus for DeMatha, the Stags also have their share of weapons for which the Cadets must account. Cameron Phillips showed his capability when DeMatha elects to spread the field, snagging 11 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win.
Brooks hopes to find more rushing success Saturday to create an offensive balance that keeps the Cadets guessing, and attack early and often in a game between two explosive teams.
“Another positive from last week was us not giving up and fighting to the end, and that’s the kind of resolve we need to achieve our goal and finish this journey,” Brooks said. “But we need to work on starting fast, because we can’t afford to start slow against a team like St. John’s.”