“I told them we’re going to run it all the way downfield,” Dawson recalled. “Coach told us he was going to feed the running backs the ball and we just kept pounding and pounding the ball.”
On 10 of the Falcons’ 11 plays during the 98-yard drive, they ran the ball, with Dawson rushing in for an eight-yard score that sealed Good Counsel’s 21-3 victory.
Three weeks ago, Dawson admits that the Falcons’ rush game didn’t necessarily command the same control on the field. When top senior back Leo Ekwoge went down with a season-ending knee injury midway through their first game, some questioned whether Dawson and fellow senior Perry Stefanelli could shoulder their new responsibilities as featured backs.
“Leo’s a good buddy of mine, so when he went down, there was a little bit of emotion, and then as I walked in the huddle on the next play, it hit me like, ‘Wow, my team really needs me,’” Stefanelli said. “I wanted to be someone they could rely on.”
Friday’s win against Calvert Hall marked a big step in the duo becoming a reliable force for the top-ranked Falcons. Stefanelli rushed for a career-high 157 yards on 21 carries while Dawson also produced a career-best with 134 yards and two touchdowns.
With first-year starting quarterback Bryan Strittmatter still getting adjusted under center, most opponents are aware that Good Counsel’s offense will feature a heavy dose of rushing. But stopping this attack is a whole different issue with the likes of Notre Dame recruit Sam Mustipher clearing the way along the offensive line and Stefanelli’s shifty style complementing Dawson’s powerful style.
“Me and Chris are both short and we have a really big line, so most defenders can’t see us coming,” Stefanelli said. “Chris runs extremely hard and almost never gets tackled on the first hit, I can make people miss and we know our line can blow people off the ball, so all of that is building our confidence as a team.”
In addition to their rushing prowess, the Falcons have found confidence in their defensive play. During Friday’s victory, Good Counsel held Calvert Hall to minus-36 rushing yards and stopped the Cardinals on nine of their 11 third-down attempts.
Such play on both sides of the ball will be key in sustaining the Falcons as they begin the tough journey toward a fifth straight WCAC title with Friday’s game against No. 16 Gonzaga.
“Coach compared our season to a heavyweight boxing match. He said there are different rounds and we might lose one round but if we keep fighting and win the other rounds, we will win the entire match,” Dawson said. “The first game was obviously tough but we knew what to do and have learned quickly from our mistakes so that we’re ready for any challenge ahead of us.” . . .
During the last two weeks, DeMatha’s football players learned the ups and downs that can come with being regarded as one of the nation’s top teams. Following an impressive Labor Day win against Godby (Fla.) at Byrd Stadium in front of a national audience on ESPN, praise came from all corners of the country regarding the Stags’ wealth of Football Bowl Subdivision talent and bright potential.
But just five days later, this same DeMatha team was bogged down by questions of its robustness following a 42-14 defeat at the hands of St. Joseph’s (N.J.).
In the week leading up to their next contest against St. Frances on Friday, DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks challenged the fortitude of his players with a series of physical practices that also focused on the basics. The result was a 41-6 rout of the Panthers that once again displayed the high ceiling for the Stags’ balanced attack.
“I think it was a great wake-up call,” said Stags running back Taiwan Deal, who rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns in Friday’s win. “After being on ESPN, being high off that win and having a short week, we might have underestimated them and we just had a bad game. After that, everyone was saying St. Joseph’s had laid the blueprint to beat DeMatha, but we didn’t think so. We had to bounce back and show everybody what DeMatha football is all about.”
Along with Deal’s big night, quarterback John Lovett had his best outing of the year, going 8 of 13 for 148 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to Virginia Tech recruit and senior wideout Cameron Phillips. Defensively, All-Met linebacker Jawhaun Bentley emerged after a slow start with nine tackles, including for loss, and an interception return for a touchdown.
“We made the routine plays that we are accustomed to making,” Phillips said. “The third-and-fours and third-and-fives that we couldn’t convert or tackles that we missed, we made them against St. Frances and that was key in getting the win.”
Along with getting the Stags back on the winning track, it helped second-ranked DeMatha end what Brooks called their four-game “preseason” on a good note. Saturday begins the portion of their schedule that the Stags have most been looking forward to, a 2 p.m. contest at St. John’s that opens play in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
“We got knocked down but we had to move forward and regroup,” Brooks said. “We had a tough stretch to start the season and I’m happy with where we are now, entering league play at 3-1. We considered that the preseason. Now the games mean something.”