DeMatha strikes back, tops Gonzaga in WCAC football semifinal

DeMatha junior running back Taiwan Deal rushed for 192 yards and five touchdowns Saturday in the No. 12 Stags’ ego-soothing 40-27 victory at No. 11 Gonzaga in a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinal. The triumph snapped a four-game losing streak in the series and secured for the Stags a shot at No. 1 Good Counsel in the WCAC championship at 2 p.m. next Sunday in Annapolis.

The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Deal repeatedly powered through the Eagles and scored at least one touchdown in each quarter. He had runs of 34, 26 and 35 yards, and DeMatha junior quarterback John Lovett also threw for 149 yards.

“This means a lot,” said Deal, who assumed a larger role in the offense when junior Mark Allen, a Penn State recruit, went down with a season-ending knee injury last month. “[The seniors] didn’t want it to be their last game, so we came out and pushed.”

Deal scored on a 34-yard run on the fourth play of the game and after junior Jamal Robinson intercepted a pass, the Stags drove 78 yards for another score for a 13-0 lead.

DeMatha had gone up 10-0 in the first quarter at Gonzaga two weeks ago in an eventual 27-10 loss, which is why junior lineman Brock Ruble cautioned Lovett on the sideline Saturday, “Remember, they embarrassed us last time.”

Gonzaga (8-3) drove 79 yards for a touchdown, a possession sustained by a successfully executed fake punt, and then went up 14-13 later in the second quarter with an 82-yard touchdown drive, nursed by two defensive pass interference penalties.

DeMatha (9-2) regained the lead for good with a Deal touchdown just before the end of the half and scored again midway through the third period. After the Eagles made it 26-21, DeMatha junior Brian Charles intercepted a pass on a fake field goal attempt. Deal scored again to run the lead to 33-21 with six minutes left.

Gonzaga drove from its own 20 to the DeMatha 19-yard line before fumbling on a catch-and-toss gadget play. Robinson came up with the recovery.

“Coaches have been preaching to us that you don’t necessarily get a lot of [opportunities] to get rematches like this in sports,” Robinson said. “So the fact that we got to come back here and like we said all week, ‘Right our wrong,’ it means a lot.”

DeMatha had appeared in 14 consecutive WCAC championships before Gonzaga snapped the streak last year by knocking off the Stags in the conference semifinals, 28-27, on a two-point conversion in overtime. Before Gonzaga’s four-game streak, DeMatha had won 10 straight games in the series.

“I think it was only right for us to go through Gonzaga to get to the championship,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said. “I think our season won’t be complete unless we finish it off winning against the two teams that beat us this year.”

After the game, with team parents and supporters ringing the Stags’ huddle, each DeMatha coach got to say a few words about the win and the week ahead.

“I’ve got one thing to say: There’s two teams going to Navy, and they ain’t one of them,” one coach said, nodding toward the Gonzaga sideline.

The Stags roared their approval.

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