An unlikely hero emerged Friday night as backup quarterback Wyatt Hagan ’22 and the St. John’s offense came back to win at USA Today-ranked #17 Good Counsel (MD) 34-31.
“To see my boy Wyatt strive and control the offense and win the game for us was amazing,” said Sol-Jay Maiava, senior and starting quarterback, of Hagan’s late-game performance. “You know, he worked so hard. I’ve seen him work, you know, day in and day out for him to accomplish that on the field…it’s amazing.”
Hagan entered the game early in the fourth quarter after Maiava injured his shoulder throwing an interception, his second of the game, inside the Falcons’ 10-yard line with the Cadets down 31-26. His first pass went right into the hands of a Good Counsel player before being dropped. But his next three were completions, two going for first downs.
“Just short-term memory as a quarterback, just gotta focus on the next play,” Hagan said of his rocky start. “It was a really bad read, a really bad throw, but thank God that it didn’t get picked.”
Rushes by junior running back Antwain Littleton and connections to junior wide receiver Caleb Coombs put the Cadets at the Falcons’ 26-yard line. But just as it seemed the Cadets would jump back on top, a sack on 4th-and-9 ended the drive and set Good Counsel up at midfield.
The Cadets defense came up big with two tackles for loss, forcing a punt. Coming back onto the field with two and a half minutes left, Hagan knew it would be his team’s last shot as a win. Down five, they needed a touchdown.
His game plan? “Just one play after another. Don’t worry about what’s going on, just focus on the play ahead, and whatever that outcome is, just keep working your way downfield.”
Their first play resulted in an offensive fumble recovery and a holding penalty, St. John’s 10th penalty of the game. Facing 2nd and 20 from his own 6, Hagan and his coach made an unexpected play call – a check-down pass across the field to star wide receiver Rakim Jarrett ’20.
Jarrett explained the choice to the Ricardo Report: “The play before, we tried to go deep on number 8 [Good Counsel’s Jalen McNair], but it didn’t really work out well. So they tried to give me something quick so I can make something happen.”
He did just that, taking the pass 82 yards downfield as he made two defenders miss and broke the tackle of a third.
Jarrett told The Sabre that his thought process during the catch was, “first, ‘secure the catch,’ because I had a fumble [earlier in the game] but I got it back. It was ‘secure the catch’ and then ‘make that man miss.’ I just tried to run as fast as I could and beat 22 [Good Counsel defensive back Jason Moncure].”
Set up at Good Counsel’s 12-yard line, the Cadets would convert a 4th-and-6 before Littleton took a handoff over the pile of linemen into the endzone for the go-ahead score. Hagan would find Coombs in the endzone for an insurance 2-point conversion to make the score 34-31.
Jarrett said, “I knew we have a great backup quarterback in Wyatt, so I knew it wouldn’t be a big drop off, so we just had to rally around Wyatt.”
Coombs added, “I’m actually really close with Wyatt and I know what he can do, so I had a lot of belief in him, I had a lot of faith in him. I knew what he could do.”
After a long kickoff return by the Falcons’ started their drive at midfield for the third time in the quarter, the defense allowed only a first down, completing the win with a 4th down forced incompletion.
“Coming into the game, we knew they wanted to run the ball a lot,” said junior defensive lineman Taizse Johnson. “And throughout the first half, first quarter, we started off right, and then it got a little shaky, but we went in and made some adjustments out in the fourth.”
“I just can’t thank my teammates enough,” Hagan said after the game to the Ricardo Report. “All the work they put in, all the ups and downs we’ve been through this season, and to just keep clicking when I get in there…there’s no slowing down with this team.”
The offense spread the scoring out, as Littleton finished with two touchdowns, while Coombs, wide receiver Jamar Curtis ’22, and running back Colby McDonald ’21 had one each. The defense only had one turnover, a fumble forced by linebacker Mekhail Sherman ’20 and recovered by linebacker Isaiah Jordan ’20.
“I do this on the regular, ain’t nothing too different,” Sherman said after the game. “We played teams like IMG [Academy, FL], we played teams like Mater Dei [CA], we play top 25 tier teams. I’m not saying Good Counsel’s not a good team. They’re a solid team; however, the same way they held their heads and won the five-overtime last week, in the same way, we held our head down,” referring to Good Counsel’s 42-35 win over Gonzaga (DC) the previous week.
The team suffered a series of crucial injuries throughout the game, especially in the second half. In addition to Maiava and Sherman, who left in the third quarter, junior tight end and linebacker Christian Taylor, senior lineman Treyvon Branch, and junior lineman Kyrik Mason all left the game with injuries.
When asked how his defense was able to hold the Falcons scoreless in the fourth quarter, Head Coach Casamento said, “I have no idea. We were playing with rubber bands out there. Two of the defensive tackles had to come over and play offense because we don’t have any more offensive linemen to put in. Now they’re playing both ways, and they’re still going hard… the backups just kept coming in and doing a great job. I was impressed.”
“We build a system, we build a brotherhood, that when one man fall down, next man step up,” Sherman added. “We saw that on both sides of the ball today, and we congratulate both teams, both sides. We knew we were gonna win, we knew we were gonna do what we gotta do. It shouldn’t have ever been this close of a game, but that’s why this bye week next week is so good for us, for us to clean up and for us to do what we do best.”
The Cadets improved to 4-4 with the win and are the only undefeated WCAC team (2-0), as DeMatha (MD, 5-2) fell to Gonzaga (DC, 7-1) 28-26 on Saturday. St. John’s hosts the Stags on Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. before they play the Eagles at Catholic University on Nov. 9, with the new kickoff time of 7 p.m.