Four consecutive losses have a way of wearing on the psyche of a team. In those moments, character is defined and leadership is needed to right the ship. St. John’s is using the adversity it faced earlier in the season to get better, and their growth was on full display during their 34-20 semifinal victory on Saturday over the Stags.
“The journey is so much more important than arriving at the summit,” said coach Joe Casamento. “Everything we’ve been through has made us tougher. It’s made us tighter [as a team]”.
The Cadets defense stuffed the run and suffocated DeMatha receivers.
Their offense controlled the time of possession and moved the ball at will. St. John’s appeared determined to take advantage of opportunities in the passing game, getting the ball to Rakim Jarrett early and often and when senior quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava dropped a 26-yard dime into the hands of a diving Caleb Coombs, it gave the Cadets a 10-0 lead in the first.
“We knew they played man coverage with one-high safety so we just tried to take advantage of their defense,” said Rakim Jarrett. “Caleb made a great catch and Sol-Jay placed the ball where it needed to be”.
St. John’s continued its dominance to start the second. Maiava spread the ball around to multiple receivers, marching the cadets down the field. Antwain “Baby Bus” Littleton’s 6-yard touchdown run pushed the Cadets lead to 17-0.
Late in the second, DeMatha’s freshman quarterback Cameron Edge ignited the Stags comeback. A pass interference call against the Cadets extended DeMathas drive and with seconds remaining in the half, the Stags went play-action and Edge found Sieh Bangura for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 17-7.
The Stags drew closer in the third, following a goal-line stand, Marshawn Lloyd ran off-tackle 82 yards for a score, trimming the Cadets lead to 17-14. After Littleton and Lloyd exchanged touchdown runs, the Cadets once comfortable lead was cut to 24-20 early in the fourth.
St. John’s did not panic. The Cadets did not flinch. Their seniors have been through the fire this season, and they were determined to see the Cadets through.
“The more you get tested, the more you have to deal with losses, the more important your time together becomes,” said coach Casamento. “ I have so much respect for our seniors. I appreciate how much they’ve grown”.
Each time the Stags fought back into contention, St. John’s answered. When their backs were against the wall, their upperclassman made plays.
Led by Maiava, St.John’s methodically moved the ball down the field. Sol-Jay found Littleton out of the backfield for a key first down and capped the drive with a 12-yard keeper, beating Cozziah Izzard to the edge and finding the end zone for a 31-20 lead.
Trailing by two scores and the clock winding down, DeMatha faced a 4th and 20, Cameron Edge was immediately pressured and sacked by senior captains Mekhail Sherman and Taizse Johnson. The two embraced and jogged to the sideline in unison.
With the victory, the Cadets advance to the WCAC championship game vs. Good Counsel. It will be the third title game their senior class will have participated in and they will have a chance to win their second title.