Joe Casamento’s emphatic words in the postgame huddle hammered home the objective for St. John’s this fall. The first-year head coach doesn’t want his team to be good — he wants it to be “elite.” Only then can the Cadets end DeMatha and Good Counsel’s 13-year reign as Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champions.
“The road to the championship goes through Good Counsel first, DeMatha next,” Casamento said. “We have them back-to-back. So how lucky can you be?”
With No. 1 DeMatha looming next week, St. John’s began the quest for its first WCAC title since 1989 in decisive fashion in Northwest Washington on Saturday. A relentless rushing attack and stingy defense propelled the Cadets to a 39-22 romp over Good Counsel in the conference opener for both teams.
No. 7 St. John’s (4-1) overwhelmed the visitors from the opening whistle. The Cadets marched 68 yards in 12 plays for the game’s opening touchdown, then doubled their lead on their next possession with a scintillating 45-yard gallop from sophomore tailback Joachim Bangda.
The Cadets’ hulking defense was equally impressive. Linebacker Ryan Vessels set the tone with a sack for a 17-yard loss on Good Counsel’s first play from scrimmage. The No. 5 Falcons’ next possession ended with a fumble in the backfield forced by defensive end Tyree Johnson.
Johnson, a Texas A&M recruit, hit Travis Nannen in the end zone a few minutes later. The ball squirted out of the senior quarterback’s hands and through the uprights, and the back judge ruled it a safety.
Seven plays later, sophomore running back Keilan Robinson ran six yards up the middle to extend the gulf to 23-0 with nine minutes left in the second quarter. With 6-foot-7 Auburn commit Calvin Ashley and the rest of the Cadets’ mammoth offensive line paving the way, Robinson waltzed into the end zone untouched.
“It’s easy,” said Robinson, who finished with 15 carries for 140 yards and three touchdowns. “You could drive a car through that line.”
St. John’s stormed into halftime with 170 rushing yards and a 23-7 lead. Good Counsel’s normally prolific ground attack managed only 23 yards before the break.
The Falcons (3-1) surrendered a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown by defensive back Darryl McDaniel on the first play of the third quarter, but they settled into a rhythm after that behind Mohamed Ibrahim’s hard running. Ibrahim trucked two defenders en route to a 34-yard touchdown on fourth and 10, cutting the Cadets’ lead to 36-22 midway through the third quarter. He finished with 162 yards on 20 carries.
The St. John’s defense tightened up down the stretch. Sophomore linebacker Shane Lee snagged an interception to close out the third quarter, and the Cadets’ bulldozing rushing attack took care of the rest.
“We practice hard, so that means we’re going to come together during tough times,” said Lee, a transfer from Gilman. “That’s what we did, and that’s what I like about this team.”