The DeMatha football team was in the midst of its summer practice sessions when Coach Bill McGregor called a team meeting. But instead of talking about X's and O's, McGregor began preaching the virtues of being a family.

"Coach McGregor said a team betters itself a whole lot if it plays together, acts as one and loves each other," said defensive end E.J. Johnson. "He said unless we do that, we can't be good."

That most elusive element in sport -- chemistry -- was what McGregor craved.

"You push for it. You hope for it every year," said McGregor, who is in his ninth year of coaching, with a career record of 74-10-2. "It's the thing you want most. This year, the kids for some reason are very close. We've been talking about it from day one. It's the old adage that if you talk about it long enough, you'll believe it."

It seems the top-ranked Stags have grasped their coach's family concept as well as his game plans with equal ease.

DeMatha enjoyed its biggest victory of the season and possibly of the football program's history when it defeated Brockton High School (Mass.), 24-6, Saturday to improve to 4-0 and give the school its first home loss in five seasons.

In defeating Brockton, ranked fourth nationally by USA Today going into the game, DeMatha moved up a notch from seventh to sixth in that poll. "It was a great win for DeMatha," said McGregor, who said he received seven phone calls from Division I recruiters the day after the victory.

"We feel we play in the toughest conference in the area {Metro}, but we had never beaten a nationally ranked outside rival like Brockton before. It was an honor and privilege just to play a football team like that and to come away with a win puts our program on the verge of going to another level.

"You're never sure how good you can be or how good you aren't. "You're always dying to see how you can play against a top-flight team. They {Brockton} have seven or eight players who will sign with a Division I program. It gives us a good indication that we are capable of having a top-notch team."

Going into the season, it was a given that -- with 13 starters returning -- DeMatha was loaded. But a key question was how the offense would adapt to the loss of All-Met running back Bryce Bevill, who accounted for 1,700 yards last season.

What has emerged is a more diverse offense in which, it seems, everyone gets to handle the ball.

"This year's is a more balanced team," said senior running back Seneca Coehins. "There is not one person doing it all. This year, we need the quarterbacks, running backs and the wide receivers, and everybody is producing."

Throwing the ball an average of 17 times a game instead of handing it to Bevill 25 to 30 times, quarterback Dan Crowley (39 of 66 for 538 yards) and junior wide receiver Reggie Funderburk (19 catches for 325 yards and four touchdowns) are having fun with the passing game, and are among the area leaders.

As for the Bevill-less running game, the Stags have displayed talent as well as depth. When starting running back Coehins (42 carries for 385 yards) went down with a leg injury in the second quarter of the Brockton game, reserve Lamont Gore came in and turned in a remarkable performance, rushing 21 times for 94 yards and scoring all three of DeMatha's touchdowns.

However, it is conceivable that regardless of who is at the "skill" positions for the Stags, the offense would continue to produce. The offensive line averages 6 feet 3 and 240 pounds.

Clearly the most cohesive unit on the team, the defense was bolstered by the addition, via transfer, of linebackers George Del Ricco (an all-Prince George's County linebacker from DuVal) and Coy Gibbs (from Madison), the son of Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, who had 13 first-hits and a fumble recovery against Brockton.

The stingy unit has allowed just 18 points all season and stopped Brockton inside its 10-yard line on four drives.

"We don't want to give anything up," said Del Ricco. "Whatever it takes. Most people get mad when they get a first down, never mind a touchdown."

With all of the formidable players on both sides of the ball, the most sought-after player on the team may be All-Met kicker David DeArmas, who has connected on four of seven field goals, with a long effort of 47 yards. He also has been perfect on extra points and has a punting average of 44.2 yards.

Just as coaches hope their teams achieve chemistry, they also fear a letdown after big victories, such as the one over Brockton.

And upset-minded Metro Conference foes await in 10th-ranked Carroll, 20th-ranked St. John's and -- this one on Saturday -- 13th-ranked McNamara and its vaunted run-and-shoot offense.

"We just can't let it happen," said Gibbs. "I don't want to even think about it. If we did, everything we did up to now would be worthless if we lose."