Cadets ground the Eagles, earn No. 1 seed in WCAC playoffs

St. John’s (6-4, 4-0 WCAC) spent nearly 46 minutes of the oldest Catholic high school rivalry’s 98th meeting without a lead. But, a late touchdown and defensive stand propelled the Cadets to the comeback victory against Gonzaga (DC, 8-2, 2-2 WCAC) 32-28 Saturday night at Catholic University. 

Set up by a short Gonzaga punt, the Cadets were facing a 3rd down at midfield, but running back Colby McDonald ‘21 used his legs, and a key block downfield by sophomore defensive back Josh Gray, to speed into the end zone for the go-ahead score. 

Despite this game being billed as a matchup between two of the area’s best quarterbacks, both teams found more success on the ground. And McDonald was crucial rushing game’s success.

McDonald said that having an impact on a close game meant everything. “I had to wait my turn because Jamar [Curtis ‘22, RB] was cooking early, Antwain [Littleton ‘21, RB/DL] started cooking, but as soon as my play got called, I knew I had to make the play for my team,” McDonald said.

The evening, with temperatures close to freezing, was well-attended by both sides, and began with a march from the St. John’s Cadet Corps. St. John’s fell behind early, giving up two touchdowns in three Gonzaga drives and failing to make a first down through the entire 1st quarter. They would get one early in the second; however, as Curtis took a handoff 63 yards for St. John’s first score.

He and wide receiver Rakim Jarrett ‘20 would lead the next drive, an 82-yard march to the end zone to tie the game. Aided by three Cadet penalties, the Eagles would milk the clock and find the end zone one time to take a 21-14 lead into the half.

After a 32-yard Cadet field goal by Daniel Reyes ‘21 opened the half, the Eagles would score again to lead 28-17 at the end of the 3rd quarter. St. John’s, however, would not go out quietly. After putting pressure on Gonzaga QB Caleb Williams at various points throughout the night, they finally got their first sack, courtesy of junior lineman Taizse Johnson, to force a three-and-out. Littleton would run through a pair of Eagle defenders to find the end zone, tacking on another 2 points to cut the lead to 3. That’s when McDonald and the defense would complete the comeback and ice the game. 

“It felt like we overcame everything,” McDonald said of seeing the defense tackle Williams for the win. “No better feeling.”

The victory over Gonzaga gave the Cadets an undefeated WCAC record, which many people doubted after struggling against nationally ranked teams in the non-conference.

“Our kids are talented, our kids are focused, our kids got a lot of fight in them, and our kids don’t quit,” said head coach Joe Casamento. “I think the biggest thing is you have to be able to overcome the negative. We just go back and go after it again, and keep punching and punching and punching, and finally, you knock ‘em out.”

Linebacker Mekhail Sherman ‘20 credited the early season for the team’s ability to stay in the fight. “Being 0-4 for a few weeks to, in the last couple of weeks, going 4-0 in our own conference, it really shows the competition with the schedule that Mr. Brian Griffin [made] did for us.”

St. John’s takes home the WCAC regular season title for the third consecutive year. But, after last year’s close semifinal loss to Gonzaga at home, the team knows that their focus has to be on next Saturday’s matchup with DeMatha (7-3, 2-2 WCAC). 

“I feel like we can’t let off the gas,” McDonald said. “We only worry about these last two games.”

Littleton added: “Our offense is great, our defense is great, so we’re feeling very confident heading into the playoffs.”

Final WCAC Standings:

  1. St. John’s College (6-4 overall, 4-0 WCAC)
  2. Our Lady of Good Counsel (7-3, 2-2 WCAC)*
  3. Gonzaga (8-2, 2-2 WCAC)*✝
  4. DeMatha (7-3, 2-2 WCAC)✝
  5. Bishop McNamara (5-5, 0-4 WCAC)

* – Good Counsel’s 42-35 win gives them a tiebreaker over Gonzaga.

✝ – Gonzaga’s 28-26 win gives them a tiebreaker over DeMatha.

WCAC Playoffs:

No. 3 Gonzaga at No. 2 Good Counsel – Friday, November 15th, 7pm (Last meeting: 10/11, Falcons def. Eagles 42-35 [5 OT])

No. 4 DeMatha at No. 1 St. John’s – Saturday, November 16th, TBD (Last meeting: 11/2, Cadets def. Stags 24-20)

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