WASHINGTON — The DeMatha Catholic High School football team put together a vigorous effort against conference rival St. John’s College High School in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) playoff semifinals on Nov. 16.
However, the Stags fell victim to late-game defensive pressure and were not able to rally past the Cadets, losing 34-20 on Nov. 16, ending another season without a championship title.
At one point late in the first half, the Stags trailed 17-0 but were able to trim the deficit to 17-14 in the third quarter before St. John’s made a series of decisive plays in the final 15 minutes to clinch its fifth consecutive win.
Senior quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava was 16 for 28 passing for 177 yards and a touchdown to go with a 12-yard rushing touchdown to lead the Cadets. Also, running back Antwain Littleton rushed 11 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns as St. John’s improves to 7-4 overall and remains unbeaten in WCAC play.
The game was ultimately decided by the small things, DeMatha Head Coach Bill McGregor said, crediting St. John’s for being a well-rounded, well-coached football team.
“Any time you have a big game, it’s going to come down to little things – who makes the plays and who doesn’t make the plays,” McGregor said. “And yeah, they made more plays than we made. And as a result, you win the football game. That’s what happens. That’s the game of football.”
Meanwhile, the St. John’s coaching staff reminded their team to “stay locked in” and “keep fighting” entering the matchup, Littleton said.
“Our game plan was coming in, just being focused and executing. We knew DeMatha was a good team and they were going to give everything they had,” he said. “Everybody plays different in the playoffs, so we just made it about us and it stayed about us.”
On Nov. 2, the Cadets survived to earn a 34-31 home win over DeMatha. St. John’s Coach Joe Casamento was glad his guys were able to prevail over the Stags again in the rematch in the semifinals.
“Anytime you play DeMatha and you win, it’s like you go mark that one down. They’re great,” Casamento said. “The most important thing is it was the next step to our dream of making it to the championship game.”
The game’s first touchdown came at the tail end of the first quarter when the Cadets forced a fumble, and then Maiava threw a 19-yard pass to Caleb Coombs. That play came before a 28-yard field goal by kicker Daniel Reyes with 28 seconds remaining in the first.
DeMatha missed a 47-yard field goal at the top of the second, while Littleton scored with 4:03 remaining in the half to give the Cadets a 17-0 lead.
About halfway through the second quarter, DeMatha defensive back Cole Donaldson suffered what appeared to be a critical back injury as he attempted to tackle Littleton. Both teams kneeled together and prayed as Donaldson was taken away to a nearby hospital. DeMatha officials confirmed that the sophomore was recovering well.
“It really bonded the team, especially at halftime,” Edge said. “Cole is a brother of all of us. Cole was somebody that you’re gonna need on any football team, so we’ll always pray for Cole.”
The Stags were able to trim the deficit to 17-14 with a three-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Cameron Edge to running back Sieh Bangura and an explosive 80-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lloyd. Edge finished 13 for 25 for 143 yards and a touchdown for DeMatha.
Littleton scored again on a one-yard carry, giving St. John’s a 24-14 lead entering the fourth.
DeMatha running back MarShawn Lloyd added another touchdown to open the fourth quarter, but the Cadets responded with a score when Maiava faked a handoff and walked 12 yards to the end zone to make it 31-20.
Late in the fourth, the Stags fumbled a snap, tackled for loss yardage a few times but Reyes knocked in another field goal from 27 yards to bring the final score to 34-20. The St. John’s defense made two huge sacks and forced two turnovers on downs late as DeMatha fail short of advancing to what would have been its second consecutive conference title game.
“At the end of the day, you gotta move on from it. At the end of the day they (St. John’s) made more plays than we made, they made less mistakes than we made,” Lloyd said after the loss. “We came out here and we did our best.”
The Stags conclude the season with a 7-4 record. In his final game for DeMatha, Lloyd led the way with 136 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. DeMatha’s standout running back for the past three seasons, Llyod finished his senior year with more than 1,300 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.
“It was amazing. Being a Stag was the best decision I ever made,” Lloyd said. “I gained a brotherhood, it was amazing. Coming to DeMatha for these four years was the best four years of my life, and I’m going to always love these boys forever and they’re going to always be my brothers.”
“It was a great honor to coach Marshawn,” McGregor said. “I think he’s a great athlete, great football player and I think he’s going to have a tremendous future at the University of South Carolina.”