By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 23, 2008
After a few postgame words from their coach, DeMatha's players grabbed their championship trophy and jubilantly rushed toward the stands to celebrate with their fans. The 11th-ranked Stags have made a habit of winning Washington Catholic Athletic Conference titles, but this one might have been the sweetest of all.
Less than two months after being embarrassed by top-ranked Good Counsel on a nationally televised broadcast, DeMatha enjoyed a dramatic turnaround. With a completely overhauled strategy, the Stags' defense dominated the game and helped produce points in a 34-7 victory over the Falcons before a crowd of 6,000 last night at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
"The last game we came out and thought we were going to run all over them and act like it wasn't nothing; obviously that didn't happen," said DeMatha quarterback Tom Chroniger, who for the second consecutive game also moved into the starting lineup on defense at free safety. "We wanted to come out this game and play them again. We wanted to show them DeMatha football is not getting run over by Good Counsel."
Running backs Marcus Coker and Aaron Conaway each rushed for two touchdowns, helping DeMatha (10-2) win its sixth consecutive league championship while also denying Good Counsel (11-1) its first league crown and an undefeated season.
Defensively, the Stags switched from their traditional 4-3 front, using three linemen and five linebackers. DeMatha made an impressive stand after an early turnover and later the Stags recorded a safety and intercepted two passes, with Emmanuel McPhearson returning one for a touchdown and the other leading directly to another score.
"They seemed to pick up on everything we were doing and stopped us," said Good Counsel running back Caleb Porzel, who had scored three touchdowns in the first quarter of the Falcons' 42-21 victory over DeMatha on Oct. 2 that was broadcast on ESPN2. "We couldn't do much about it."
Good Counsel had been dominant throughout the entire season, never trailing since the first quarter of its season opener. DeMatha, on the other hand, was worried about the direction of its season after the loss to Good Counsel, which at the time dropped the Stags' record to 3-2.
"I went home and, I can't lie, I cried because I didn't know how the team was going to play," defensive end Jeremiah Mathis said. "It was so early in the season but we just weren't clicking."
It took some time for DeMatha to start clicking last night. Mathis and linebacker Austin Phillips had key tackles after Good Counsel had moved the ball to the 1, leading to a missed field goal attempt. Still, on the Falcons' next possession, Porzel bounced right for a 12-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The game seemed to turn, though, when DeMatha defensive back Michael Coley forced a fumble that Good Counsel recovered in its end zone for a safety. On the ensuing possession, Chroniger converted a fourth and one with a two-yard run and then Coker scored on a six-yard run for an 8-7 lead.
That was the score until the second play of the second half, when McPhearson stepped in front of a receiver and had clear sailing for a 22-yard touchdown, giving the Stags a 14-7 lead. It was just the second interception thrown this season by Good Counsel quarterback Tyler Campbell, who entered with 14 touchdown passes.
Good Counsel then went to a trick play, but Porzel's pass was intercepted by Jeff Knox. Four plays later, Conaway ran through a huge hole to the right for a 25-yard touchdown and it was 21-7.
"We're back and we're not going away," Chroniger said. "Six years in a row we've won the championship. I'm pretty sure we'll be back here again."
No, 11 DeMatha 34 No. 1 Good Counsel 7 Burst of Speed: DeMatha senior Aaron Conaway had all 11 of his carries after halftime, rushing for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Halftime Reversal: Coming into the game, Good Counsel had allowed 31 points in the second half; the Falcons allowed 26 last night.