More than 30 minutes after Paul VI Catholic High's football team upset No. 3 DeMatha, 23-10, in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game at RFK Stadium yesterday, several Panthers players ran back onto the grass at the stadium. They wanted one last look at the site of the school's greatest moment in football.
The Panthers (9-3-1) had neither defeated nor scored against previously unbeaten DeMatha--which had been unbeaten in their past 24 games--entering yesterday. But senior quarterback Collin Hannigan completed 8 of 14 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns, and junior fullback-linebacker Jerry Robertson, the game's most valuable player, rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown and added a sack to lead the Fairfax school.
As the game ended, the Paul VI players threw their helmets in the air and joyfully ran onto the field. Several Panthers assistant coaches tackled head coach Wade Keel near midfield and rolled around on the ground. The joyous fans behind the bench shook the RFK bleachers by jumping up and down chanting, "P-V-I! P-V-I!"
"This feels amazing," Hannigan said. "All week the coaches kept telling us we had to believe we could win. Going out on top is an unbelievable feeling."
DeMatha (10-1-1) was defending WCAC champion and had beaten Paul VI by a combined 105-0 in the team's first two meetings, including a 43-0 victory earlier this season. In that game, Paul VI attempted only three running plays because Keel believed the team would have trouble running against DeMatha's big defensive line.
But yesterday, Paul VI rushed 34 times for 138 yards, including an 18-yard scoring run by Robertson with 11 minutes and 14 seconds remaining in the game to give the Panthers a 20-10 lead.
"Their offensive line dominated us today," said Coach Bill McGregor, whose Stags had won six of the previous eight WCAC titles. "Paul VI was more enthusiastic than we were. They wanted to win more than we did and I congratulate them."
The victory ended what Keel called "a roller-coaster season." The Panthers forfeited their first game of the season--a 28-13 victory over Good Counsel--for using an ineligible player. But by season's end, they had victories for the first time in school history over Gonzaga, 14-11, in a WCAC semifinal and the Stags. Yesterday they held DeMatha to its lowest point total since its 14-7 loss to Gonzaga in the 1997 conference title game.
Wide receiver Ryan O'Hare was responsible for Paul VI's first points against DeMatha when he caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Hannigan with 1:38 left in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead. DeMatha tied the game on the first play of the second half, when sophomore Elijah Brooks raced 51 yards for a touchdown.
But Paul VI took the lead for good on the next possession, when Eason made a fingertip catch of a Hannigan pass for a 37-yard touchdown, giving the Panthers a 14-7 lead with 6:33 left in the third quarter.
"I love these kids like they were my children," Keel said. "As I came out of the tunnel today I got a tear in my eye since this was going to be the last time we were going to be together as a team. Winning this really is an incredible feeling."