DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor stood in the end zone Saturday, having just completed his postgame speech. After one of the Stags' most thrilling victories, a 22-21 triumph over Good Counsel on Matt Campbell's 39-yard field goal on the game's final play, DeMatha's players were exuberant in their celebration. And yet, McGregor remained calm.
"Next week's game, truthfully, is more important," McGregor said, alluding to this week's game Saturday against Gonzaga in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference playoffs. "This was an outstanding football game for the spectators, but for the coaches it was just a big, glorified scrimmage."
As the regular season winds down and playoff-bound teams begin preparing for the postseason, there is a handful of games presenting unusual challenges for coaches. In DeMatha's case, it will be a surprise if the Stags and Good Counsel do not advance to the WCAC championship game Nov. 20. Among public schools -- whose regular season finales are this weekend -- Eleanor Roosevelt and C.H. Flowers play Saturday in a game that might also be a Maryland 4A South Region semifinal matchup. Douglass and Gwynn Park have clinched the top seeds in their respective regions and seemingly have little to gain this week.
In the past, some coaches have acknowledged using such games to test various schemes or matchups in preparation for a potential rematch, knowing the playoff game is the more important result.
Flowers Coach Mike Mayo, however, said he has no plans to alter his game play or strategy.
"You don't want to get in a [bad] habit, you don't want to lose, you don't want to give the other team confidence they can beat you if you play again," Mayo said. "And if you rest them, you have a tendency to get out of sync. We've had kids out the last three or four weeks. We want to get them back in so we can get them into games and used to playing because it's been a couple weeks."
Running back Antoine Cuff is returning from a hip pointer and linebacker Justin Morgan from a shoulder injury, Mayo said. "We play to win. Then we'll play next week."
Other coaches did not share Mayo's enthusiasm.
"It's almost a total waste of time," Good Counsel Coach Bob Milloy said before his team played DeMatha. "I don't want to come off sounding [politically incorrect]. We're looking forward to playing the game and all that, but there is not a whole heck of a lot riding on it."
Campbell's Stock Rising
Junior Devonte Campbell is in his first season starting for Forestville, but he's making quite an impression. Lining up at wide receiver and tight end, Campbell has 17 catches for 562 yards. That's 33.1 yards per catch. Even more notable, nine of those catches have been for touchdowns.
"This is a guy who still doesn't really know what he's doing; last year he played only a little and didn't even play in five games," Forestville Coach Charles Harley said. "Before he was a basketball player playing football to get in shape. Now he tells you, 'I'm a football player who loves to play basketball.' "
With excellent size -- 6 feet 2 and 225 pounds -- Campbell has turned into a hot prospect. Harley said that senior lineman Antonio Logan-El had been his most heavily recruited player ever until Campbell came along.
"Right now the schools that are interested the most are Florida, Ohio State, Illinois, Maryland, Cincinnati, Syracuse and Pittsburgh," Harley said. "He gets love from everywhere."
Merriman Gives Back
Former Douglass All-Met linebacker Shawne Merriman, now a rookie in his first season with the NFL's San Diego Chargers, has made another big play for the Eagles. Merriman, who signed a contract reportedly worth $11.3 million, has donated $12,000 to the school, Douglass Coach J.C. Pinkney said, and the Eagles will retire Merriman's No. 44 on Saturday.
"That was unbelievable what that did for us," Pinkney said, adding that the donation helped pay for new uniforms and other equipment. "He absorbed our debt and everything. And he said we could count on money from him every year. We're very fortunate to have a guy like Shawne."
The Chargers are idle this week, giving Merriman time to return home for the occasion. If Douglass (9-0 and assured of a Maryland 4A South Region playoff berth) can continue to win, Merriman is expected to be in attendance for the Eagles' regional final game.
Douglass has yet to trail in a game this season, the only Washington-area team that can make that claim.
"I think we have a resilient group of guys and they don't put their heads down," Pinkney said. "Big plays take a toll on you and momentum shifts. It's how you bounce back from that. We've done very well responding after the other team gets a big play."