HYATTSVILLE, Md. — Tough losses can feel like they go beyond the field. They can linger in the mind, the key moments playing over and over on repeat, bringing up thoughts of “if only this,” or “if not for that” — what might have been.
Friday night’s matchup between St. John’s College High School and DeMatha Catholic High School at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex was one of those games. And sometimes, stepping back and taking in the broader perspective is the best way to get through those types of setbacks.
The Washington Catholic Athletic Conference is full of rivalries, with a tough game on the schedule for each team nearly every week. But some rivalries have been more one-sided than others, such as the one between St. John’s and DeMatha — the latter had won for 19 straight years coming into Friday night’s game.
This year, though, St. John’s came in undefeated, sporting a higher ranking, according to both MaxPreps and The Washington Post. MaxPreps had St. John’s second in D.C. with DeMatha third, while The Post had the Cadets fourth and the Stags 14th in their All Met rankings.
The Cadets had early hope, running the opening kickoff back for a 7-0 lead 11 seconds into the game. But after a defensive struggle, DeMatha tied the game with just six seconds to play in the first half. The Stags scored to take their first lead at 14-7 in the fourth quarter, but St. John’s rallied late on a 22-yard touchdown run by Omar Garcia with 3:41 to play, eventually sending the game to overtime.
DeMatha scored on the second play of their overtime possession, and the Cadets’ final drive came up empty on fourth down, as the Stags winning streak reached 20 years.
After the game, on the sideline, the pain was visible on the face of St. John’s head coach Joe Patterson.
“I think we’re to the point now where competing to the end isn’t good enough,” he said. “We lost to them in the championship game last year, and while this was a closer game, that’s no satisfaction.”
But it’s Patterson’s job, just like any high school coach’s, to keep his players looking at life in the right perspective when times are tough. Thankfully, he has his own support system to help him keep perspective.
A father of six, Patterson has found a way to make Cadets games family affairs. His eldest three children — daughter Anne and sons Tommy and Patrick — all help out on the sideline while dad manages the game. They picked the jobs themselves: Anne helps out with the water bottles, while Tommy and Patrick run out to swap out the footballs on changes of possession.
“As a football coach, you spend a lot of time away from your family,” explains Patterson. “I’m just trying to find a way to see them more often.”
This is the first year that any of the Patterson clan have roamed the St. John’s sidelines, but according to the coach, they’ve been active fans and supporters all along. Now, win or lose, they’re right there to remind him of what’s most important.
“Certainly after a tough loss they’re able to refocus me, to keep things in perspective,” Patterson says. “To remind me that this is a game, and there’s still life.”