St. John’s edges DeMatha for WCAC football championship

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Late in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game Sunday night, St. John’s wide receiver Asa Gregg ran with his defender to the right side of the end zone and saw the ball soaring his way. Gregg and DeMatha sophomore defensive back Jacob Wallace grabbed the ball simultaneously, but someone had to secure it.

“Senior year — had to go get it,” Gregg said. “Can’t leave without a ring.”

Gregg won the tussle and, after the officials debated for a few moments, they raised their arms to signal a touchdown. Gregg broke out in a dance, having helped give St. John’s a 7-3 win at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for back-to-back Capital division championships and the D.C. power’s 13th title.

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St. John’s (8-4) entered the year with lofty expectations after going 11-0 last season, which included a WCAC championship game win over Good Counsel. But as injuries mounted, the Cadets dropped three games in October.

After their final defeat, which came by 24 points at Good Counsel on Oct. 28, the St. John’s players realized they had talent — they have roughly a dozen Division I prospects — but they hadn’t claimed a signature win.

St. John’s earned that victory against rival Gonzaga on Nov. 5. On Nov. 11, the Cadets beat Good Counsel, 14-10, in the WCAC semifinals by stopping the Falcons on the 7-yard line with 75 seconds remaining.

On Sunday, DeMatha defensive back Tawfiq Byard intercepted a pass on the game’s fourth play to set up junior Jackson Peterson’s 21-yard field goal. DeMatha (10-2) entered Sunday undefeated in WCAC play and allowing roughly five points per game, and the Stags shut down St. John’s for most of this night. But with 8:25 left, the Cadets got the ball near midfield after they blocked a punt.

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St. John’s drove to the 11-yard line, where quarterback Myles Slade noticed the Stags playing man-to-man defense and believed Gregg could make a play. The duo has trained often over the past three years, visiting the Fields at RFK Campus during the pandemic or meeting at North Point High in Waldorf.

After Gregg caught the ball with 1:46 left, the few seconds he waited for the officials to make a ruling felt like an eternity to him. When he saw the touchdown call, “all the emotions came flooding in,” he said.

Slade, who received a scholarship offer from Navy this month, didn’t know until this week that he would be in such a crucial spot. After earning the starting job, the senior said he suffered an AC joint strain Oct. 1. He returned Oct. 28 — and then endured a concussion before testing positive for the coronavirus two days later. Although he sat for Sunday’s first drive after missing practice the past few weeks, Slade came through in the final minutes.

“I know the competitive nature of St. John’s and the great athletes that were coming out of St. John’s,” Slade said. “I wanted to be one of the great athletes to come out.”

A 17-14 loss to DeMatha on Oct. 22 had featured plenty of heartbreak for St. John’s: The Stags tackled running back Da’Jaun Riggs at the 3-yard line as time expired. With 52 seconds remaining Sunday, St. John’s defensive back Trent Brown nabbed an interception to forge a celebratory scene that has become common for the Cadets in late November.

“You look at your hands and you see the ball, and you don’t even realize what you’ve done,” he said. “It’s unreal.”

Carroll is on top at last

Junior Nasir Smith carried Archbishop Carroll to a 46-28 win over Paul VI in the WCAC Metro division final Sunday in Annapolis.

With 3:27 left, Smith rushed for a nine-yard touchdown and converted a two-point attempt to give Carroll (10-2) a 32-28 lead. Eighteen seconds later, he intercepted Paul VI (9-3) while playing linebacker. With 2:23 to go, Smith ran for a 15-yard touchdown that put Carroll ahead 39-28.

The D.C. private school won its 14th championship, the second most in WCAC history, but its first since 1988.

“The guys just dug in and said, ‘Hey, we weren’t playing Carroll football in the first half, and we had to do that,’ ” Coach Robert Harris said. “We ran the ball, we play-actioned off of the run, and that was Carroll football. Those things started working and the defense picked it up, and the rest is history.”

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