St. John’s-Good Counsel heads big WCAC night
By the time Good Counsel finished its practice Tuesday night, the field was so dark that the white lace on the football seemed invisible. The coaches gathered the players, who knelt and looked at them with eyes so determined that their gaze was palpable amid the darkness. The coaches told them to grasp the moment and that it was their opportunity to shine.
After beating No. 5 Gonzaga, 38-31, on Saturday to open Washington Catholic Athletic Conference play, No. 2 Good Counsel couldn’t have asked for a better situation to seize the moment — facing No. 1 St. John’s under Friday night lights.
The last time the top two teams in the rankings squared off was two years ago when DeMatha faced St. John’s. This year’s matchup, at Catholic University at 7 p.m., will be more scrutinized with a national cable audience on ESPN2. With the hype intensified, a costly mistake could be witnessed by more than the usual crowd, but the players are keeping it cool.
“We’re very confident right now, but we’re trying to keep it humble,” Falcons wide receiver and defensive back Cameron Hart said.
Headlined by St. John’s, Good Counsel, Gonzaga and DeMatha, the WCAC is one of the most competitive high school leagues in the country. Conference play began last week with the thrilling matchup between Good Counsel and Gonzaga. This week, the four teams go head-tohead.
The Falcons (5-1) will face a different challenge in St. John’s (6- 0), the defending WCAC champion. Coach Andy Stefanelli is impressed with all phases of the Cadets’ game, especially their speed.
“St. John’s is so talented. They have so many weapons that you really can’t concentrate on one or two of their players,” Stefanelli said. “That’s what makes them so difficult to match up with and makes them so good. We know they have plenty of great players and they’re going to make some plays. We just have to hope we make a few more.”
St. John’s, coming off a 42- 0 win against McNamara in its conference opener, has one of the toughest schedules in the country.
“We’re going to treat this game like how we treated last week’s game, and next week’s game is going to be treated exactly as we treat this game,” Cadets running back Keilan Robinson said. “It’s a lot more to look forward to because we’re on national TV, but actual football wise, it’s all the same thing.”
St. John’s Coach Joe Casamento said his team needs to be wary of the Falcons’ running game, which is led by tailbacks Latrele Palmer and Sy’Veon Wilkerson. The duo combined for more than 330 yards vs. Gonzaga behind an offensive line that Stefanelli said is the strength of his team. Falcons left tackle Mason Lunsford called the unit the best offensive line he has been on.
But with both teams so deep with talented players, many of whom will play at Division I schools, one mistake can be costly.
“Execution is going to be important for both teams,” Casamento said. “You can’t make mistakes. Both of our defenses are great. You can’t make mistakes and turn it over.”
After taking the WCAC crown last year for the first time since 1989, the Cadets know it’s not just this week when the opposing team will be especially focused.
“We definitely have a target on our back,” Cadets safety Quinten Johnson said. “Nobody likes St. John’s but St. John’s.”
St. John’s defeated Good Counsel, 31-9, last year, which Hart said was on “everybody’s brains.” But the Cadets are confident they can pull off another win.
“They’re a great team, but we’re a better team in terms of talent and skills,” Johnson said. In every facet of the game? “Yes,” he replied. Meanwhile, about four miles northeast in Hyattsville, another marquee top-10 WCAC matchup will take place between Gonzaga (6-1) and No. 7 DeMatha (4-1).
Gonzaga lost its conference opener to Good Counsel after turning the ball over four times. While the Eagles are not out of playoff contention, they know losing two conference games will be tough to recover from.
“We just lost one regular season game in Week 7. What matters is where you are in the end,” Eagles Coach Randy Trivers said. “It’s like a stock market. Today, it might be up. Tomorrow it might be down a little bit, but where’s it going to be in the long run? Now it’s time to come back, and hopefully this week we do a better job against another really strong team in DeMatha.”
Coming off a bye, the Stags had an extra week to prepare for their conference opener, while Gonzaga is playing on a short week. But DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said that is inconsequential when his team plays the Eagles.
“When Gonzaga and DeMatha face each other, all of that goes out the window,” Brooks said. “They’re going to have a lot of sense of urgency to come out and perform well and win this game. Nobody wants to go down two games in this league. We know that we’re going to have to match their intensity. We understand we can’t start slow like we did last year.”
The Eagles defeated DeMatha, 26-20, last season after springing to a 19- 0 lead in the first quarter that included an interception returned for a touchdown. The Stags scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter but fell short.
“We want the revenge, but at the same time it’s a whole another team,” Stags running back Da’Jon Butler said. “It’s another team. It’s another atmosphere, and I know we can get this win. We have the talent.”