The last time St. John’s beat DeMatha on the gridiron was 1994, the same year that “The Lion King” was released by Disney and the original PlayStation debuted.
On Saturday afternoon — in front of a standing-room-only crowd that came to celebrate senior day for players and homecoming for the school’s alumni — St. John’s got to party like it was 1994 as the Cadets thrashed DeMatha 38-22.
“It’s been a long time,” said senior defensive lineman Kameron Goode. “We have gotten closer every year. Now we finally did it. It was a team effort. Now we have the PlayStation 4, and it’s a new look in 2017 — we beat DeMatha.”
While Saturday’s victory altered some long-term history, it also helped rewrite recent perceptions. Last November, St. John’s saw DeMatha roar back from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title game — which created a narrative that the team couldn’t finish big games. This perception continued to haunt the Cadets in narrow losses to two national powerhouses from California — De La Salle and St. John’s Bosco — despite victories this season over strong teams like Good Counsel and St. Joseph’s from New Jersey.
“We are eight points away from being No. 3 in America,” said Cadets coach Joe Casamento. “You have to have faith — it’s belief without evidence.”
On Saturday, the Cadets proved it.
“It felt great and it was very important,” said junior running back Ron Cook. “We had to show everybody that we could overcome adversity and end that streak. We had a big chip on our shoulder from last year.”
The Cadets’ win propels them into a tie with Gonzaga at the top of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference standings at 3-0. It also sets the stage for their regular-season finale on Nov. 4 to have major playoff implications as teams jockey for the No. 1 seed.
While the Cadets ultimately routed DeMatha, Saturday’s game started as poorly as possible for St. John’s.
DeMatha made a terrific play on defense to intercept senior quarterback Kevin Doyle and set up an offensive drive inside the St. John’s 5-yard line. The Stags used the turnover to quickly go ahead 7-0.
To make matters worse, the Cadets lost junior Keilan Robinson, a starting running back, to injury after just three carries.
Despite the early setbacks, the Cadets never blinked.
Junior running back Ron Cook, who finished the game with three touchdowns and more than 100 yards from scrimmage, took over for Robinson. “When one guy goes down, we all step up and play hard. It doesn’t matter if the starting running back goes down — we all have to make plays,” Cook said.
The junior tied the game midway through the first quarter when he caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Doyle.
“If he weren’t behind Keilan, he would have 10 offers,” Casamento said of Cook. “He’s a great running back — he’s so smart, has great vision and is tough. He played hard. He’s an inspiration to what we are trying to do here.”
The Cadets added 10 more points in the first half thanks to a 2-yard touchdown plunge from Cook and a 22-yard field goal from senior kicker Rafael Checa.
At the start of the second half, DeMatha tried to rally, with a long touchdown drive trimming the Cadets’ lead to 17-14.
But St. John’s unveiled a new offensive formation — featuring Goode as an extra blocker for power running back Antwan Littleton, a 260-pound freshman.
“With the offense we have here, it makes it hard because we don’t have the numbers up front,” Casamento said of selecting Goode for the assignment. “I didn’t want it to be a young kid. I wanted it to be a veteran. Kam is a great physical player and freak athlete.”
The Cadets went to that package in short-yardage situations and used it heavily the deeper they went into the game to grind out the Stags.
“I was going to play some tight end and fullback. It’s for the rest of the season,” said Goode. “They saw that I was fast for a big guy — moving like I move at 325 pounds is rare. They said I could go in and block, and I’m trying to catch a pass and score.”
In the second half, Littleton pounded in a touchdown run and St. John’s mixed in a deep touchdown pass from Doyle to senior wideout Charles Briscoe III to take a 31-22 lead.
While the Cadets on the field were lighting up the scoreboard, the team’s players were having fun on the sidelines. St. John’s has introduced a pro-wrestling-style championship belt that is passed to different players after a big play. After a few sacks on defense, Goode toted it around on the sidelines, and between plays the Cadets showed swagger by celebrating big moments as a team.
“I was a little bit upset because before we would make spectacular plays and it was business-like,” said Casamento. “I wanted it to be fun and celebratory. We have a belt and a lot of other things. Everyone needs to know their role. If you just want to watch, go in the stands and buy a ticket. If you want to help us and be emotional, be on the team.”
That enthusiasm reached a crescendo Saturday when St. John’s delivered the knockout blow, with Cook taking a 9-yard run into the end zone for the final margin.
“We always had confidence; it was always about finishing. This time it was just pure dominance and no letting up,” said Goode.
The team hopes that its win over DeMatha could be the springboard to the WCAC crown, which has eluded St. John’s since 1989.
“We came out here and proved everybody wrong. We are probably the best team in the country right now,” said Cook.