LANDOVER – Whispers of joy swept through the DeMatha High School football team sidelines by the end of the third quarter. With the running clock in motion and the 46-6 score in their favor, whispers grew into chatter, with echoes of “we needed this win” began to trickle out of the Stags players and coaching staff’s mouths.
After the game and his players demanded excitement, DeMatha Head Coach Elijah Brooks smiled before raising his fist in the air, slamming it to the ground and letting out a big “Boom” chant in unison with his team.
“We are as talented as anybody else, but it is going to be the most disciplined team who can execute down the stretch who’s going to win the games,” Brooks said. “Only time will tell (if DeMatha is back) but we are trending in the right direction, but we got a lot of football to play.”
The Stags may not be 100 percent back to being one of the top programs in the area, but their domination of Avalon on Sept. 28 showed they are one step closer to reaching their goal.
A standout performance by the Stags offense in the first half and near-perfect defensive display put DeMatha over the previously undefeated Black Knights 53-6 on Homecoming.
Despite missing standout senior running back Marshawn Lloyd due to a hamstring injury, DeMatha was aggressive against the Black Knights (4-1) defense, finishing with 347 yards of total offense.
Quarterback Eric Najarian quickly began attacking the Avalon secondary with DeMatha’s second offensive play of the game, finding University of Alabama commit DeMarcco Hellams for a seven-yard touchdown reception.
The senior had extra time to make deep throws down the field for substantial gains throughout the first half.
“My offensive line gave me great time, so it makes my job easier,” Najarian said. “All week, we were stressing execute and for me, it was easy to get the ball up there, and my playmakers made plays,” Najarian said, who finished going 9-of-13 for 146 yards, and he threw three touchdowns passes.
The Stags defense proved to be too much for Avalon early in the proceedings.
In the first half alone, DeMatha sacked Avalon quarterback Clay Vance three times while limiting six of their opening seven drives to four plays or less, including three three-and-outs. Stopping the Black Knights from advancing gave the Stags good field position for their potent offense.
DeMatha continued its scoring production throughout the opening half, scoring on five of their first seven drives. The tandem of Najarian and Jermaine Johnson lead the way for the Stags, scoring two touchdowns to extend their lead. First, the duo connected with a 24-yard score to put DeMatha up by 14.
Midway through the second quarter, DeMatha strolled to a 25-0 lead, and the senior pair would connect again. On a third down situation on Avalon’s 31 yard-line, Najarian heaved a ball towards the right corner of the end zone. Johnson, a five-foot-ten, 170-pound wideout beat two Black Knight defenders to make the over-the-helmet catch for the touchdown.
“I think (Johnson) is one of the most underrated receivers in the county,” Najarian said about his wide receiver. “When he is in the area, he can always make a play, as seen today when he did that a couple of times.”
“Us being comfortable with each other and him trusting me to make those type of plays for each other (is great),” Johnson said. “I love that he trusts me to make those plays for him and executes in practice reps showing that I can make those plays.”
Before halftime, DeMatha’s defense would match their offensive teammates achievements with their own play. Hellams and senior defensive back Nick Cross collected back-to-back interceptions before halftime. On Cross’s interception, the six-foot-one senior would return the turnover 33 yards for DeMatha’s fifth touchdown of the game.
Coming out of halftime, DeMatha rested their starters but continued pressuring their opponents with their passing game. Senior backup quarterback Jayden Bender found sophomore Kaden Prather in midfield for a 20-yard gain.
However, the wideout fought through two would-be tacklers to score a 71-yard touchdown. With seconds remaining in the contest, junior Edward Core Jr. capped off an impressive Stags win with a 26-yard touchdown reception.
The dominating victory did more than increase DeMatha’s (4-1) current win streak to four games; the morale-boosting result was a positive sign on the program’s growth before starting their Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) schedule in two weeks against Gonzaga on Oct. 12.
“It was good to play a good, clean game that we executed because it been an issue leading up to this game,” Brooks said. “We came out and played well, and it was a good win before heading into league play in a couple of weeks.”
“We have to stay humble and recognize that we cannot take anybody lightly,” Johnson said. “We have to stay one team, one DeMatha, and ball out for each other.”