There was a sense of relief on the DeMatha Catholic High School sidelines in the late stages of their Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinal football victory over host Gonzaga. Players hugged — some even cried — the moment it was clear they were headed to the championship game.
“You guys worked your butts off the entire this year. And to be totally honest with you, you’ve been great,” coach Elijah Brooks told the players as they huddled after the game. “But we’re not finished.”
DeMatha (9-2) face rival Our Lady of Good Counsel (10-1) for the WCAC championship at 2 p.m. Sunday at Navy Stadium in Annapolis.
This task will be their toughest of the season. Good Counsel, the top-ranked team in the state, has won the last three WCAC championships and is on a 10-game winning streak and defeated the Stags earlier this year.
“Until someone proves otherwise, they’re the favorites,” Brooks said.
If the previous game is any indication, an upset isn’t out of the question.
The Stags lost 13-10 when the teams played in October. DeMatha held Good Counsel senior quarterback Brendan Marshall to just 35 passing yards and the defense stood tough.
Special teams play was the difference. Good Counsel senior Kendall Fuller returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and DeMatha never fully recovered.
DeMatha scored 40 points on Gonzaga in the semifinals but will face a much greater challenge on Sunday. Good Counsel has four shutouts on the season, including three in its past five games.
“They’re by far the best defense we faced this year. Big up front. Athletic secondary. Fast to the ball. They definitely pose a serious challenge for us,” Brooks said.
The Stags will rely on sophomore running back Taiwan Deal, who ran for five touchdowns in the semifinals.
They will also need a mistake-free game out of quarterback John Lovett. The junior had a masterful performance in the win against Gonzaga. In the Week 5 matchup, he threw for 201 yards and two interceptions.
“Obviously playing on the big stage, you never know how kids will react,” Brooks said. “But we have the utmost confidence [in him] and hopefully he saves the best for last.”
Good Counsel is led by Fuller, senior running back Dorian O’Daniel and senior cornerback Kirk Garner. O’Daniel ran for 141 yards and two touchdowns in the 21-7 win over St. John’s in the semifinals.
“They’re the type of team that can score any time one of their big-time players touches the ball,” Brooks said.
Good Counsel went undefeated last season and defeated Gonzaga 42-0 in the 2011 championship. In 2010 and 2009, they defeated DeMatha in the finals.
The Stags have a chance to dethrone the three-time champions.
“It’s going to take the same effort we put in [against Gonzaga],” Deal said. “We just kept pushing hard all week, it was great. We’re going to have that same work ethic. We’re gonna come out, and we’re gonna do it.”