With the rain pouring down sideways and St. John’s stuck at the Good Counsel 30-yard line on fourth down during Friday’s game, the Cadets had several options to ponder. It was still the first half, and with St. John’s already in front, taking a chance on fourth down could have been a good way to take control. But with that lead at just one point and the Cadets possessing a strong leg in kicker Joe Giglio, Cadets Coach Joe Patterson didn’t hesitate. He elected to take the sure points.
“Joe is very consistent and has as strong of a leg as anyone I’ve ever coached,” Patterson said. “He’s consistently able to make those kicks in practice, so we have full confidence in him.”
After Giglio calmly knocked through the 47-yard field goal with room to spare, the Cadets would go on to score 21 more unanswered points in a 31-6 win against Good Counsel. The victory moved St. John’s to 2-1 in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference standings, putting it in the driver’s seat for the third playoff spot and positioning the Cadets for a chance at the No. 2 slot if they can get past Gonzaga in the regular season finale.
“Our motto this year has been ‘Get on board,’ and we fell off that a little with the loss to DeMatha,” Giglio said. “But we’re refocused and everyone seems ready to go again to get in a good spot for the playoffs.”
Defensively, the Cadets have allowed just 13 points and forced four turnovers across their last two wins against O’Connell and Good Counsel. In turn, more opportunities have opened up for the offense, which has been fueled by big rushing performances from quarterback Will Ulmer and running back Omar Garcia.
“I feel like we have one of the best, if not the best, defense in the conference,” said Cadets defensive back Omar Truitt, who had two interceptions on Friday. “That’s what’s really led our team. And after seeing what our offense can do against a tough Good Counsel defense, it’s been wonderful to have it all come together.”
Friday marked Good Counsel’s first game without quarterback/kicker Bryan Strittmatter. The junior transferred from Good Counsel early last week and enrolled at Churchill on Wednesday. Two days later, Strittmatter played quarterback, kicker and on defense, totaling 64 yards and nailing a 32-yard field goal for the Bulldogs, for whom his younger brother, Sean, is the starting quarterback.
Strittmatter entered the season as Good Counsel’s starting quarterback before being benched in favor of sophomore Andres Castillo in the second half of a Sept. 20 loss to Gonzaga. After playing sparingly in the last two weeks of what’s been an up-and-down season for the Falcons, Strittmatter felt like it was time for a change.
“I felt like there was a lot of pressure being put on me to where football wasn’t really fun like it used to be,” Strittmatter said. “It’s unfortunate because I love Good Counsel, but it just wasn’t working out. Now that I’m at Churchill, I’m here to do whatever I can to make the team better and get the program back on track to success.”
In six games, Strittmatter was 22 of 50 for 360 passing yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions for Good Counsel.
Each week, DeMatha Elijah Brooks is faced with a good problem in his offensive backfield. Though Wisconsin recruit Taiwan Deal has established himself as the starter, the Stags possess several other capable rushers in Mark Allen and Lorenzo Harrison. Dividing up the carries so that each player has a chance to get going can be tough, but as the last few weeks have shown, the complementary styles and needs of this three-headed attack often help the situation take care of itself.
“A lot of it has to do with how each back is feeling from week to week,” Brooks said. “One might be a battling a nagging ankle or hamstring, which might force us to rely heavily on the other. If they are all feeling good, we try to rotate them equally until someone emerges with the hot hand. They are all so competitive that they almost make it a game within a game, which makes us a better team at the end of the day.”
Against St. John’s, Deal used his strength to tear through the Cadet defense for 131 yards, but when a sprained ankle sidelined him in the fourth quarter, Harrison stepped in for the winning score. Two weeks later, Mark Allen and his shifty moves served as the spark for the Stags in a comeback win against O’Connell. And on Saturday, with Allen hampered by a quad contusion, Harrison’s quickness and vision allowed him to emerge again and rush for a career-best 216 yards and five touchdowns in a win against McNamara.
In eight games, the top-ranked Stags have totaled 1,725 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground.
“They put me in more than usual last game, which was nice, and I just tried to take advantage,” said Harrison, who’s rushed for 489 yards as a sophomore. “It’s great to have all the weapons we do have at running back, and the line has been blocking even better than usual and that gives us all an extra push.”