Early Release Edition: DeMatha Stags Stay Prayed Up And Played Up

A Critical Eye

For the first time this season I was a live, eye witness to the juggernaut that is DeMatha football. There were a lot of things that stood out to me. Number one was Father Damian Anuszewski still holding down the sidelines after 35 years! It’s hard to imagine that this one, lone, Trinitarian Priest is the eye on the two most recognizable sports that the school plays: basketball and football. Father D, as he is known, is the fatherly patron of the athletic program. I don’t know how many games that he’s witnessed first hand but it has to be a record. As far as I know, Father D never played significant sports in his life and never interferes with the day to day operations.

Instead of suggesting plays Father D’s mere presence is one of the reasons why DeMatha kids play so hard. He never meddles, but he’s always watching. I’m pretty sure that he learned whatever he knows about the game football from when he first arrived at DeMatha as a Trinitarian Brother, not yet a priest, in 1968. In the graduation issue of the Red & Blue Review Father D was quoted as saying that one of his memorable moments in his 35 years of DeMatha history was a pass from Erik Chapman to Joe Connolly that won the Stags their first championship in fifteen years. He also cited the third straight Alhambra tournament championship win in 1973. Kids, one of those moments was the stuff of legend when I was a student at DeMatha and the other reference Father D pulled out happened before I was born.

I’m an old dude. I have critical eye towards football now. It is not that I have ever played the game of football, but I have seen enough football at various levels to qualify as a couch potato quarterback. I imagine that Father D is the same way too. I can’t even fathom what goes through his mind as he paces the sidelines of all these games. He has so much at stake in every play, and yet all at once he has nothing at stake at all. All you ever see him offer is encouragement and prayers. He prays with the team before all of the games and during halftimes. He smiles and claps even when the Stags are losing and looking absolutely terrible, although with DeMatha that is a rare occurrence. Father D is still there holding it down, people. Okay, I think that I’ve gone on for enough about that for a little while. The Stags beat the Friendship Collegiate Knights 45 – 12, and they did it in a convincing fashion.

At first the Stags started out sort of slow. DeMatha punted after two, three-downs and outs, to start the game and the defense needed to adjust to the quarterback draw plays being run with some success. Fortunately for the DeMatha they didn’t allow a repeat of the previous year and refused to allow the momentum to shift with an early Friendship Collegiate score. The Stags made their adjustments to defend the speed of the Knights’ quarterback and eventually forced a turnover on downs deep in their own territory in the closing minutes of the first quarter of play. The defense sparked the offense because Mike Meriwether broke out with a sixty yard run, bowling over defenders on his way to the end zone shortly thereafter.

The Stags forced a fumble on a sack by Kyrrel Latimer during the Knights’ next possession and #54 Bobby Caffes picked it up and the defensive end set DeMatha up for another easy score. The game was already over only Friendship Collegiate didn’t know it. Daniel Tapscott threw two touchdown passes to his double teammate, Ryan Burbrink and the Stags were putting on a show. (Tapscott and Burbrink are also on the baseball team.) I think that Patrick Harbeson scored on a run late in the game, and Jordan Lomax had some key defensive plays including one interception. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Branthover (one field goal and a couple of booming punts) and his extraordinary kicking ability, yet again. There were a lot of Stags in on the action. Friendship Collegiate did eventually make it on the scoreboard in the third quarter, but as I wrote, the game was over long before then. Head Coach Bill McGregor’s statistics playing with a lead have got to be totally phenomenal because DeMatha is a tough team to come back on.

When Marcus Coker and company started to eat up the clock with first downs and tough running anyone watching knew that the Knights were in over their heads. To be fair, the DC public charter school did have some athletes that came to play, but not enough depth to withstand the punishment that comes with rotating lineman weighing 300 pounds. Almost every series for the Friendship Collegiate Knights included an injured player on defense beginning with the second quarter of play. Even during the three-and-outs to start the game DeMatha ran Marcus Coker right up the middle to pummel defenders even though he gained very little yardage on the plays. After a quarter of being bruised by a diesel running back headed to the University of Iowa, I think that I would probably be on the ground, too. Friendship Collegiate definitely keyed on Coker and he didn’t have a banner day in yardage or in touchdowns due to the added attention.

What Marcus Coker lacked in statistics, he more than made up for in mental toughness. The DeMatha Stags proved, once again, that the win is more important than any individual player. The star from a week ago only played two-and-a-half quarters in the game and was laughing on the sidelines while cheering on his buddies with his helmet off. I suppose Coach McGregor’s philosophy was to get some other guys experience during an easy win because three different quarterbacks eventually took a snap from the center. Meriwether and Harbeson were also up to the task of carrying the football for touchdowns so DeMatha hardly even noticed that our other star running back, Pittsburgh recruit Jeff Knox, missed the game because of a concussion suffered in practice.  

Overall, I was totally impressed with the Stags. I know that we can, and eventually will, execute even better. Deno Campbell is going to hook-up this defense. They aren’t all the way clicking yet, but they will get there. The question mark, believe it or not, is on offense. We are certainly potent because we have put up big numbers, but it will be more of a challenge against a stingier, prep school defense. I am wondering if quarterback Daniel Tapscott is willing to take on the challenge of having to throw the ball under pressure because some team is undoubtedly going to try to put the game in his inexperienced hands. I honestly don’t see any team being able to effectively deal with the DeMatha offensive line making huge holes for an excellent stable of running backs. For a lot of teams, trying to bait Tapscott into bad decisions is their only hope. I saw a lot of quick swing passes that will have to be crisper during WCAC play, and one of his long passes was a lame duck waiting to get picked.

Friendship Collegiate had so much respect for the DeMatha receivers that they didn’t get to make a serious play on any of Tapscott’s balls. Okay, that’s enough with that kind of talk. Back to the defense: I would have liked to see guys finish better on those quarterback juke moves. (I liked the pressure that we got on the Knights’ quarterback, but time and again he would escape the sack by faking the pass.) Kyrell Latimer was able to swing his arms when he ran came on the blitz and he used that momentum to snare the throwing arm and force the fumble. If the entire defense applied the same tactic during the game there would have been a lot more sacks. Not that I’m complaining or anything, because I know that Defensive Coordinator Deno Campbell needs time to work. By the end of the season, the Stags are going to be that fire, you heard?

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