High school football notebook: Untangling the complicated WCAC


Good Counsel cornerback Jonathan Donnelly (3) leads the charge as the Falcons take the field to take on Gonzaga. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

In this week’s notebook, we cover Good Counsel, St. John’s, Gonzaga, DeMatha, South Lakes, Howard, Theodore Roosevelt, North Point and Tuscarora.

THE SNAP COUNT: ALL THE CONFUSION IN THE WASHINGTON CATHOLIC ATHLETIC CONFERENCE BOILS DOWN TO ONE FINAL IMPORTANT GAME.

If St. John’s beats Gonzaga at neutral Paint Branch High School on Saturday, the Cadets lock up the top seed in the conference’s four-team playoff. 

They’d face their archival DeMatha, whom they whacked, 38-22, earlier in the month, in the semifinal and face the winner of Gonzaga and Good Counsel.

If the Eagles, though, topple St. John’s, all hell breaks loose in the conference. Here’s a quick rundown of who has beaten whom so far in the playoff field:

St. John’s, Gonzaga and Good Counsel would each have identical conference records. Their only losses would come to one another. To break the three-way tie for the top seed, the school’s athletic directors would draw numbers from a hat.

In any scenario, Good Counsel would emerge as the WCAC’s big winner.

The Falcons entered the year as the conference’s presumed weak link after the retirement of longtime coach Bob Milloy. Freshman team coach Andy Stefanelli took over the role and Good Counsel promptly posted a discouraging loss to Baltimore’s Mount St. Joseph in Week Two and barely squeaked out a 3-0 victory over Virginia Beach’s Bishop Sullivan in Week Four.

Meanwhile, DeMatha had played well in a nationally televised season-opening loss to Bishop Gorman (Nev.) in Las Vegas and St. John’s knocked off Jones High School from Florida. Gonzaga wiped up Baltimore’s Gilman behind a stifling defense and emergent freshman quarterback Caleb Williams.

But Good Counsel reemerged when conference play began and posted a competitive showing in a loss to St. John’s, then knocked off DeMatha, then Gonzaga on Friday.

Those wins are not upsets any longer, the Falcons contend. Wide receiver Cam Hart has cropped up as perhaps the WCAC’s top deep threat. Defensive end Jay Green set the school’s single-season sack record (11) once held by current Houston Texans linebacker Jelani Jenkins and 2016 All-Met linebacker Joshua Paschal, now at Kentucky.

“We just knew that we can play up to a potential that people didn’t think we would play up to,” Hart said Friday night after the Falcons scored 27 unanswered points to shock Gonzaga. “We made it happen, and we’re going to keep making it happen.”

Here are other top high school football stories from around the D.C. area:

» SEAHAWKS RUN AWAY WITH LIBERTY DISTRICT

South Lakes Coach Trey Taylor said his team doesn’t script its first quarters, instead choosing its offensive plays based on what the defense throws at it. But if Taylor could have written a script for the beginning of his team’s game against Yorktown, writing in three touchdowns from senior Spencer Alston might have seemed dramatic.

The Seahawks ran past Yorktown in the Liberty District’s deciding game, winning 52-14 after 35 first-half points. An injury to running back Albert Mensah, a fixture of their dynamic offense, meant Alston had to take on more responsibility. He answered the call with 23 carries for 255 yards and five rushing touchdowns, as well as six catches for 69 yards and one receiving touchdown.

“The only worry we had was confusion about the new packages and personnel we had to use with Albert out,” Taylor said. “We knew Spencer could do whatever we asked him to do.”

Alston and South Lakes have been pouring on points all this season; they head into Friday’s season finale against Herndon averaging close to 45 points per game.

—Michael Errigo

» UNDEFEATED HOWARD ON THE VERGE OF ANOTHER COUNTY TITLE

After Bruce Strunk resigned as Howard head coach in January with a 73-29 combined record and six postseason trips in nine seasons, Ross Hannon took the lead.

The Lions, reigning three-time county and regional champions, haven’t missed a beat.

Howard (9-0), which has lost only once to a Howard County foe since 2013, is positioned to earn at least a share of the county title with a win next Friday against Oakland Mills.

While undefeated River Hill could also share the milestone, the Lions say their local dominance was just one of their preseason goals.

Getting past 4A powers such as Wise and Quince Orchard in the playoffs — teams that have ended recent postseason runs — is another.

In that aim, Howard will rely on its running game, which generated more than 350 yards Friday in a 40-0 win over Atholton.

On defense, meanwhile, Hannon looks to linebacker Ryan Kearney, whom the coach called “the best high school linebacker I’ve ever coached,” to guide a unit that’s pitched four shutouts this season.

“We’re balanced,” Hannon said. “We just have not been giving up any big plays and we’re making everybody earn every inch.”

—Callie Caplan

» ROUGH RIDERS READY TO JUMP DIVISIONS

With the top seed in the DCIAA Stripes Division playoffs already locked up, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders (7-2, 5-0 DCIAA Stripes) are in position to leap into the more competitive Stars Division if they can repeat as Gravy Bowl champions this postseason.

Much of the Rough Riders’ success stems from 6-foot-4, 360-pound Kareem Williams and the big men up front on both sides of the ball. On offense, they have paved the way for senior running back Alonzo Beverly to top 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. On defense, they’ve made it difficult on opposing rushing attacks.

“We’re huge up front, but freakishly athletic up front also,” Coach Chris Harden said. “Teams can’t make it out of the backfield.”

If the Rough Riders can secure another championship, they’ll be in good shape to compete in the Stars division next season with many key players returning, including junior quarterback Leon Gray, junior defensive end Darius Buchanan and sophomore safety receiver RuQuan Brown.

“We just can’t wait to get up next year into the other division,” Harden said. “Everyone’s saying we’ve expired down here.”

—Dan Roth

» A SIMPLE MISSION FOR NORTH POINT: SURVIVE NOVEMBER

This North Point team has grown up together. Four key members of the Eagles’ core — quarterback Jemichael Jones, offensive tackle Rasheed Walker, defensive back Chelen Garnes and linebacker Michael Troxel — are three-year starters.

Each of the past two years they’ve stormed through the regular season, only to bow out of the playoffs after one game. It’s been a painful process, but one Coach Tom Petre thinks has hardened a now-veteran team.

That mental toughness was on display Friday night, when the Eagles fell behind previously undefeated Northern on the road, 14-0. No. 8 North Point fought back and entered halftime knotted with the Patriots at 21, only to ride a dominant second half to 45-21 win.

“It’s more of just the maturation of the process,” Petre said. “It’s all about finishing games. It’s a poised group ready to play.”

North Point (9-0) wraps up its regular season next week against Chopticon (8-1), a team whose only slip up was a 36-33 defeat to Northern.

An undefeated regular season would be nice, but that won’t be enough for North Point this season — not with an experienced group hungry for December football.

—Joshua Needelman

» THE MIRACLE IN ALDIE

Tuscarora led all night. Then Carl Garmon’s third touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion gave Champe a 29-28 lead with 17 seconds left. The home sideline in Aldie went berserk. The Knights gamble paid off. The Huskies needed a miracle.

After a kickoff return and a quick pass to the 22-yard line, Tuscarora lined up for one final play.

“We had the play in our playbook, but it’s not necessarily a situation that we practice all that much,” senior wide receiver Adam Thorne said.

Junior quarterback Justin Allen took the shotgun snap. A defensive lineman slipped through and forced the right-handed passer to roll to his left. Downfield, the cornerback covering Thorne slipped as he turned to run with the 6-foot senior.

In an instant, Allen set his hips and unleashed a 50-yard rocket. After Thorne hauled in the pass at Champe’s 35-yard line, three defenders bounced off him. Another tripped.

Thorne raced into the endzone as time expired for a 78-yard touchdown. Tuscarora 34, Champe 29.

“Everyone on the sideline was discombobulated. Just shock. Like, ‘what now?’,” Thorne said. “Personally, it never sunk in that we were going to lose.”

A step faster than his players, Tuscarora defensive coordinator Brandon Wheelbarger was the first to meet Thorne in the end zone. In the week leading up to the game, the Huskies mourned the loss of his father Doug Wheelbarger. The former assistant coach at Centreville passed away at 68-year-old on Tuesday.

“It sounds cliche but you always think about scoring a touchdown like that,” Thorne said. “It’s an honor to score one like that for my team and Coach Wheelbarger.”

-Dillon Mullan

READ THIS

» Complete regional standings

» PHOTOS: No. 7 Good Counsel takes down No. 2 Gonzaga

» In Loudoun, a kitchen table and a youth sports program set kids up for success

» Week 9 rewind: Good Counsel surges to upset No. 2 Gonzaga

» Week 9 rewind: Aaron Derwin’s two interceptions seal Quince Orchard’s win over Northwest

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