By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 9, 2010; D10
Although he is perhaps the best kicker to come out of the Washington area in several years, Michael Branthover rarely is called upon in critical situations. Usually, powerhouse DeMatha has comfortable leads, its offense gets the ball in the end zone and Branthover trots out for the point-after kick.
On Friday night, however, there was plenty of pressure when Branthover ran onto the field. Less than two minutes remained in the game, the 14th-ranked Stags were tied with No. 2 Good Counsel and an overflow crowd of 6,000 filled the stadium in Olney. The All-Met senior coolly converted a 33-yard field goal that gave visiting DeMatha a thrilling 31-28 victory in a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference game.
"It's great, 'Friday Night Lights,' like [several] thousand people here, who wouldn't be excited?" Branthover said. "I love it. It's Good Counsel. You've got to jam it down their throats. No one likes them."
One of the region's fiercest rivalries was full of twists and turns and strange plays. DeMatha (4-2, 2-1 WCAC) jumped out to a 14-0 lead on two touchdown runs by Jacob Siwicki less than one minute apart early in the second quarter.
Good Counsel's Kendall Fuller then returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and a 55-yard punt return by Blake Countess set up another score as the Falcons regained the momentum and pulled within 14-13.
Later - after Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen arrived via helicopter and took a short drive to the game - one of DeMatha quarterback Nikolay Uherek's passes hit a game official in the head and knocked him temporarily out of the game.
Then, midway through the fourth quarter, DeMatha was whistled for back-to-back penalties that allowed Good Counsel (4-2, 2-1) to convert a much-needed fourth down. First, the Stags were called for a bizarre delay-of-game penalty when one of their defensive players went down with a cramp and then all of his teammates followed suit in order to get the attention of game officials. That was followed by an offsides penalty.
Good Counsel quarterback Zach Dancel capped that drive with his third touchdown pass of the night to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, this one a one-yarder on fourth down with six minutes left that tied the game at 28-28.
That set things up for Branthover, who is attracting plenty of interest from college recruiters but had not been up to his usual automatic standards. He had missed a point-after kick in the first quarter, his second in two weeks. And of the six times he kicked off deep, five were touchbacks but the other one was returned by Fuller for a momentum-changing touchdown.
Branthover had forgotten about any problems, though, as DeMatha rushed the ball down the field to set up the first fourth quarter game-winning kick of his career.
"He's been a great kicker and he's been clutch," said DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor, whose team avoided losing consecutive games in the same season for the first time in 16 years. "He came through when we needed him."