LANDOVER – Defensive lineman Tre’ Williams said it was never going to happen.
Late in the third quarter, the DeMatha Catholic High School football team was driving down the field and with the help of two pass interference penalties, they were in position to score a game-tying touchdown.
However, the 305-pound St. John’s High School junior kept believing that he and the defensive unit would negate any Stag scoring attempt.
Four plays were on the one-yard line, and all were runs.
They were all denied by the Cadets defense.
On the final attempt, DeMatha’s Marshawn Lloyd’s diving attempt to score over his offensive line was met by a mass of linemen ready to stop his entry to the end zone.
“Not happening today,” Williams said. “Not today, not ever. It was a play that had to be made, and that is what we do; we have a ton of playmakers on defense, and when a play needs to be made, we make them.”
“We knew we could dig it in there, but we didn’t capitalize,” Lloyd said.
The goal-line stand would be the real dagger in DeMatha’s chance of earning the upset victory.
The failure of finishing off the drive, followed by the rushing performance by senior running back Ronald Cook Jr., was enough for the Cadets to maintain their grip on the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC), defeating the Stags 13-7 on Oct. 26.
Coming into the game, the Cadets (8-0) had not lost a game since Sept. 23, 2017. Meanwhile, DeMatha (6-2) was building momentum with a winning streak of its own, bouncing back from their season-opening loss at St. Thomas Aquinas to win six straight games, including stomping rivals Good Counsel 32-2 on Oct. 19.
Both teams had to battle through non-stop rain throughout the game. The conditions caused an early turnover by DeMatha as quarterback Eric Najarian fumbled the ball after taking a hit by senior defensive back Quinten Johnson. Williams picked up the loose ball and ran to the 12-yard line.
The strip sack fumble recovery set up Cook, a five-foot-10 running back who immediately ran in a 12-yard score for St. John’s first touchdown. Cook proceeded to be the lynchpin of the offense, running for medium to substantial gains to keep drives moving.
Together with running back Colby McDonald, who ran for 51 yards, the running game became a key to the Cadets success in the rain, according to Head Coach Joe Casemento.
“I felt we really handled it well and came out to fight and gave it our best,” Cook said.
With less than two minutes before halftime and following another fumble recovery, St. John’s handled the ball to Cook again. The senior fired towards the right sideline and bounced away two Stag defenders, before diving in the 10-yard run for the score. Cook battled through the monsoon-like conditions to rush for 117 yards on 18 carries and scored two touchdowns.
“Ron is a great back, and he is probably the most underrated player in the conference,” Casemento said. “He and Colby give us a one-two punch, and they did a great job; it was nice to have (McDonald) to come in so we can take Cook off every three plays, so he stays fresh because he was running around and playing receiver as well.”
DeMatha fought back, quickly driving down the field before handing it off to Lloyd for a 14-yard touchdown before halftime. The Stags looked poised to take over the game by stifling the St. John’s passing game. Midway through the third quarter, quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava would attempt a deep pass down the field, but senior defensive back Joshua Wallace intercepted the errant throw.
However, the Cadets defense continued to dominate Najarian. Despite committing 14 defensive penalty calls that extended drives, the Stags quarterback was limited to 66 yards passing and was sacked six times.
After the goal line stand, DeMatha had one more shot at a game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes remaining.
While the drive looked promising, it quickly ended with less than 40 seconds left as Najarian was stripped sacked for the second time, with St. John’s recovering the loose ball.
For Lloyd and the rest of the Stags offense, it is a game they would like to forget, especially after their defense became the first unit this season to limit St. John’s to less than 20 points.
“Our defense was amazing; they have been putting up huge numbers all season,” Lloyd said. “They only scored 13 points, but we did not execute as well offensively as we should. The defense plays in a faster tempo, and as an offense, we need to step it up, be able to execute and make plays.”
DeMatha will play at Bishop McNamara on Nov. 2 in search of a berth into the WCAC playoffs while St. John’s will close out their season on the road, taking on Gonzaga on Nov. 3.