St. John’s quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava (No. 9) and the Cadets will play Gonzaga again in the WCAC semifinals next weekend. (Samantha Pell/Washington Post)

St. John’s quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava walked off the football field at Gonzaga three minutes into the fourth quarter and burst into tears. 

Maiava had just thrown a 66-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cameron Ross to help secure what would be a 34-17 victory for the No. 1 Cadets on Saturday in Northwest Washington, but tears spilled down the signal caller’s face. 

It was the first time in the junior’s playing career he showed that much emotion. He had moved from his tightknit community in Laie, Hawaii, to the Washington suburbs with his family just before the season started to give himself a better chance at a college scholarship.

He finally let those emotions sink in. 

“I was just thinking about all the sacrifices that I had made and what my family had made,” Maiava said as he wore a flower lei his mother made for him and the Cadets coaches. “I was just thankful.”

Despite some errors in the second half to let the No. 6 Eagles back in the game, the Cadets finished their regular season 9-0 and 4-0 in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. Gonzaga fell to 7-3 and 1-3 in the WCAC. 

“We all did what we were supposed to do, and some of us made mistakes here and there, but everybody had each other’s back,” Maiava said. “The receivers and running backs had my back. The [offensive] line had my back.” 

St. John’s, the defending WCAC champion, is on a 16-game winning streak and enters the playoffs as the top seed in the WCAC. The Cadets will have a rematch Saturday against fourth-seeded Gonzaga — this time at St. John’s in the WCAC semifinals. 

The other semifinal will be No. 5 Good Counsel against No. 2 DeMatha on Friday at the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex. The WCAC championship game is scheduled for the following weekend. 

The Cadets jumped out to an early lead Saturday, going up 27-3 before halftime behind two touchdowns by running back Ron Cook. Cook started the game in place of Alabama commit Keilan Robinson, who was injured in a St. John’s win over Good Counsel on Oct. 12. 

The Cadets faltered in the second half, with turnovers and penalties allowing Gonzaga to inch back into the game. A 16-yard touchdown run from Malcolm Terry in the third quarter and a 20-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Williams to John Marshall in the fourth cut the deficit to 27-17. 

“We played the worst football we ever played in the second half, so it is easy to refocus for next week,” St. John’s Coach Joe Casamento said. “You just can’t get up like that and then think you have it and stop playing. We have a lot to work on.”