The bleachers of FedEx Field overlooked the packed Marvin F. Wilson Field. The rowdy Gonzaga fanbase had made the trip out to Prince George’s County to support their team. It just had that big game feeling. Under the lights. Conference rivals. Gonzaga 5-1, DeMatha 5-0. Something had to give.
If anyone was expecting something similar to the offensive clinic put on by these rivals five years ago (a game in which Gonzaga won 46-43), they got the exact opposite. This was a defensive battle all night long. In the end, DeMatha kept their undefeated alive with a 14-7 victory over their division foes.
After a quick 3-and-out from Gonzaga, Stags’ QB Denzel Gardner and the rest of the DeMatha offense took the field. Starting with a great field position, they quickly moved the ball into the red zone. The game’s opening score came with the Stags all the way down to the 4-yard line. Gardner initially fumbled the snap, then quickly picked up the ball and ran to his left. Untouched, he rushed into the end zone for the touchdown. With the extra point blocked, the Stags were up 6-0. This would be the only score of the half, as both defense suffocated the opposing offenses. Dematha’s physicality and speed on the defensive line made it extremely hard for Gonzaga to gain any momentum.
It appeared that the DeMatha offense was beginning to really turn it on at the start of the second half. RB Bud Coombs and co. marched out to midfield and looked well on their way to getting some points. And then the flags started flying. Three holding penalties completely stalled the Stag’s drive, and they were forced to punt again. Nonetheless, they had chewed up six minutes of clock in a game there were leading.
After a great punt by that was downed inside the 5-yard line, the Eagles would have to go the length of the field to tie the game or take the lead. After two short gains, DeMatha’s penalty issues started to bleed into the defense, with the Eagles’ Lincoln Fischer drawing a pass interference penalty downfield and DeMatha jumping offside just a few plays later. But even with the penalties, Gonzaga’s brutal field position ultimately amounted in another empty possession. After three quarters, the score remained 6-0.
Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, silence struck the Gonzaga crowd, as Conrath went down with an injury. He was forced to leave the game, but came back later in the series after Kainoa Winston, #1-ranked 2025 prospect in DC, came in a for a few snaps. On the drive, Gonzaga had finally gotten into the red zone, thanks to two extremely costly roughing-the-passer penalties on DeMatha. The officiating will no doubt be a topic of discussion amongst the halls of DeMatha High next week.
With the Gonzaga offense down in the red zone, they were finally able to break through. Conrath, just minutes after having to leave with an injury, threw up a 50-50 ball to the corner of the end zone. D.D. Holmes leaped up, reeled in the pass, and got both feet down for a 6-yard touchdown. After trailing all game, the Eagles had finally gotten into the end zone, and John Holley’s extra point gave them the lead with 8:52 remaining in the game.
One Gonzaga score was all the Stag’s offense needed to wake up. After initially being forced into a 3rd and 15, Gardner completed a clutch throw over the middle for the first down. Shortly after that, Gardner appeared to turn a midfield QB run into a long touchdown. Once again, a holding flag negated it. But Budd Coombs was going to make sure that this drive ended in points. He took a handoff from the Gonzaga 40-yard line to their 20 for a huge first down. On the very next play, he bolted into the end zone for the 20-yard touchdown. His speed and shiftiness was simply too much for the tired Gonzaga defense on the play. The drive lasted just a couple of minutes. A beautiful ball from Gardner to Emmanuel Dyson on the 2-point conversion gave DeMatha a 7-point lead.
On the ensuing Gonzaga drive, Conrath and the offense initially moved the ball well, getting down to inside the Stags’ 40-yard line. On what seemed like a last-gasp chance on 4th and 8, DL Emmet Laws broke through the Gonzaga line and forced Conrath to run backwards. Laws finally caught up to him and completed the sack for a massive loss. Like they had all night long, the Stags’ defense made the huge play. Laws was absolutely terrific in the game. He also forced a fumble on Gonzaga’s last drive for good measure, although the Eagles recovered. They had gotten one last chance after their defense forced a 3-and-out. But the dominance of Laws and the rest of the defensive line was too much to overcome for Gonzaga. 14-7 final score.
Next week, DeMatha will head to Good Counsel for another big divisional game as they look to stay undefeated. The Eagles will look to bounce back from the loss at Bishop McNamara.