LANDOVER – Trailing 14-7 at halftime, DeMatha Head Coach Elijah Brooks challenged his team to step up and defend their home field following a poor showing in the opening half. Last year’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champions had committed seven penalties and threw an interception on their final first-half drive.
With all the troubles the Stags faced, their defense rose to the occasion.
The unit caused a turnover on its first drive back on the field, allowed just one first down, and shut out the McDonogh Eagles for the rest of the game. The defensive stops allowed for good field position for the Stags’ running backs – led by a 78-yard performance by Myles Miree – to melt down the clock and regain the lead. It was not pretty, but DeMatha grinded out a 17-14 victory over McDonogh at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex on Sept. 16.
“We got to (always) pump our team up,” defensive end Anthony Hill, Jr. said. “The defense is the backbone of the team so we just got to keep going.”
In a battle between two of the best football programs in the state, DeMatha (3-1) struggled offensively following its first possession of the game. Quarterback Ty Lenhart, who finished 8-for-13 with 77 yards, threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeMarcco Hellams to give the Stags an early lead.
However, the following three drives ended with punts despite good field position.
The Eagles (2-1) excelled off the play of senior quarterback DeJuan Ellis. Following DeMatha’s scoring drive, the six-foot, 175-pound Virginia Tech commit thrusted his way into the endzone for a 12-yard rushing touchdown.
In the second quarter, on a 3rd-and-20, Ellis launched a 48-yard pass to wide receiver Nathan Walsh. Ellis scored his second rushing touchdown on the following play with a minute remaining before halftime.
The DeMatha defense quickly atoned for those scores in the second half and did not allow a single drive to last longer than five plays. Cornerback Deion Green intercepted Ellis in the endzone on McDonogh’s opening drive. Senior defensive end John Morgan recorded two drive-ending sacks while Hill, Jr. swatted the ball away on a third down situation.
“I thought our guys did a good job rallying around the football,” Brooks said. “Outside the one touchdown before the half on 3rd-and-20, I felt like our guys did well in the pass coverage, but those are the plays that have been killing us all year.”
With good field position, DeMatha’s offense began to find its footing. Both Miree and junior Dominic Logan-Nealy reestablished the run game and prolonged drives. Normally posted at wide receiver, Nealy bossed his way through holes to run for 51 yards while Miree’s big gains put DeMatha in scoring position.
“We didn’t attack the way we wanted to upfront,” Brooks said. “But Myles found holes and got the most out of runs. I think he ran well.”
First, Miree’s 12-yard run up the right side led to Lenhart’s 1-yard sneak to tie the game. One drive later, Miree busted through the middle for a 22-yard run to set up for the game-winning 22-yard field goal.
Lenhart credited the offensive line for the win afterward.
“Our line won that game for us.” Lenhart said. “Those guys grinded it out as our running backs found holes and made great cuts. They got the ball where it needed to be and they won that game today.”
McDonogh was set to get the ball back with less than two minutes remaining after keeping DeMatha from converting a first down. However, on fourth down, a roughing the punter penalty on the Eagles gave the Stags the necessary yardage for a first down to win the game.
Players and fans celebrated the call like a game-winning touchdown. DeMatha had won, but improvements must be made from both players and the coaching staff.
“This is a crazy game,” Brooks said. “But for once, it wasn’t us making the mistakes, so we’ll take it. That is the way the game went, but we cannot count on that moving forward.”