St. John’s-Good Coun­sel heads big WCAC night

The Washington Post - - WASHINGTONPOST.COM/SPORTS - BY DAVID J. KIM

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.”

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