WASHINGTON – When Our Lady of Good Counsel High School’s football team narrowly lost to St. John’s at home on a last-minute touchdown in a seesaw game on Oct. 18, St. John’s Head Coach Joe Casamento presented a rhetorical question.
“If that had gone the other way here, but we played as hard as we can, what can you say?” Casamento had asked.
The rematch came on Nov. 24 at Catholic University. This time, the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) Capital Conference Championship was on the line. This time, the game went the other way.
Part two of Falcons versus Cadets was just as exciting as part one several weeks prior. There were interceptions and missed extra point attempts, yards earned after contact and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
When the dust cleared, Good Counsel kicker Vincent Errigo trotted onto the field with 23 seconds left. The Falcons trailed by one, the result of a missed extra point by Errigo earlier in the game.
Errigo took aim from 32 yards out, and the kick was true as the ball sailed through the uprights. The scoreboard read 16-14 and the Falcons were WCAC champions for the first time in seven years.
The road to the title game proved to be a rocky one for both teams. The Cadets were bitten by the injury bug and endured a four-game losing streak halfway through the season. The Falcons fell one game short of the championship in 2018 and managed just 34 points combined in the first three games of their 2019 campaign.
However, none of that mattered when the two teams took the field at Catholic University. The first half proved to be heavy on defense as St. John’s shut out Good Counsel for two quarters. Just like in the regular season matchup between the two squads, the Falcons relied on linebackers Mitchell Melton and Kristopher Jenkins to bring the pressure against Cadets quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava, and the seniors did not disappoint.
Maiava enjoyed just a second or two in the pocket before Jenkins or Melton came flying around the offensive line to chase him down or sack him for a loss. As a result, the Cadets depended upon their ground game as running backs Colby McDonald and Antwain Littleton traded handoffs out of the backfield. Littleton’s 1-yard touchdown remained the only points scored for two quarters; the junior had launched himself over the goal line like a missile as the Cadets fans in the capacity crowd roared their approval.
The Falcons echoed St. John’s with a prolific running game of their own. Junior running back Sean Aaron made his presence known when he unleashed a 68-yard run to open the second half. Senior Sy’Veon Wilkerson slipped through holes and broke tackles, and it took two or more Cadets to bring him to the ground. Wilkerson provided the game-tying touchdown in the third quarter and registered more than 100 yards rushing.
Wilkerson’s scoring opportunity came after Good Counsel linebacker Caleb Dennis picked off Maiava and carried the ball to the 1-yard line.
“I read the play perfectly, I slipped the offender – I should have scored, but I got it to the one yard line, and it was enough,” said Dennis.
Another interception, this time by safety Jalen McNair, set up Aaron’s go-ahead touchdown a few minutes later. McNair returned the pick 25 yards, and then Aaron followed up with the 5-yard score to put six on the board for Good Counsel.
“I saw (Rakim Jarrett) of course is their primary receiver, and he was locked down. The point man ran a corner, I baited the quarterback and the quarterback threw it,” said McNair of his interception. “After that, it’s just me making a play.”
Errigo’s extra point attempt, though, missed its mark. That missed extra point hung over the Falcons like a dark cloud when St. John’s started to drive down the field again.
It appeared as though history was going to repeat itself and the Cadets were going to score late and hang on to get the big win. Maiava ran for the first down himself, and then connected with Jarrett for a touchdown. The raucous crowd watched intently as St. John’s kicker George Alvarez lined up and completed the extra point attempt. The Cadets led by one with less than 90 seconds left.
The Falcons needed a quick, game-breaking play and Wilkerson delivered. The senior juked a defender, broke another tackle and ran for 54 yards to set up Errigo’s successful field goal.
The Good Counsel sidelines gleefully emptied onto the field, but the trophy did not belong to the Falcons just yet. The Cadets had one final chance at the championship, and it rested solely on the foot of Alvarez and a field goal attempt from 49 yards out.
Alvarez’s kick went wide right, and then zeros appeared on the scoreboard and the Falcons were free to celebrate their fifth WCAC championship in school history.
“Both teams are loaded with great athletes. They fight the fight,” said Casamento. “(Good Counsel) scouted us well, they worked well, they’re a good team. I don’t know if I could change anything to beat them. The next time we play, maybe we win.”
“We worked for this for so long. Our coaches kept pushing us during the summer with long workouts, long practices,” said Dennis. “It was so much hard work and it paid off. This just feels so unreal right now, we worked hard and we’re here.”