There was hope for Corona Centennial fans Friday night. Quarterback Tanner McKee was in uniform and greeting teammates as they ran onto the field at Cerritos College. He was participating in pregame warmups. There was every indication from an outsider's point of view that he was ready to play against Bellflower St. John Bosco in the Division 1 semifinals despite being removed last week after hitting his head during a tackle.
But in this era of recognizing the dangers of a possible concussion, McKee never made it off the sideline. There was no taking chances, and without him, the Huskies' offense sputtered badly to start the game and never recovered. St. John Bosco scored the game's first four touchdowns and never looked back in a 62-34 victory.
George Holani ran for three touchdowns and caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from D.J. Uiagalelei, who ran for two touchdowns and completed 18 of 27 passes for 269 yards and one touchdown.
It sets up a Trinity League rematch against unbeaten Santa Ana Mater Dei next Saturday at Cerritos College. The Braves will be hoping for a repeat of last season, when they lost the league game to Mater Dei, then beat the Monarchs in the final. Mater Dei, however, is looking pretty unstoppable after a 49-21 semifinal rout of Mission Viejo, ending the coaching career of Bob Johnson, the winningest coach in Orange County history.
Each time St. John Bosco and Centennial meet in the playoffs — and this was the fifth consecutive year — there's usually a guarantee of excitement.
"Dude, it's like the Rocky series. This is Rocky V," St. John Bosco Bosco coach Jason Negro said before the game.
In 2013, St. John Bosco won 70-49, with Sean McGrew scoring six touchdowns and rushing for 372 yards. In 2014, Centennial won 48-41, with Sammonte Bonner scoring four touchdowns. In 2015, Centennial won 62-52, with JJ Taylor rushing for 261 yards and five touchdowns. In 2016, St. John Bosco won 49-47, with Re-al Mitchell passing for 283 yards and rushing for 116 yards.
This time, the Braves opened a 27-0 lead, taking advantage of interceptions by Jaiden Woodbey and Ralen Goforth, plus a fumble recovery. Backup quarterback Arturo Herrera was struggling against the Braves' talented secondary. And St. John Bosco's defensive line, led by sophomore Kobe Pepe and Cole Aubrey, twice stopped the Huskies on fourth-down runs.
Centennial trailed 27-10 at halftime and came out and offered a brief scare. A 25-yard field goal by Derrick Valencia after an onside kick and 35-yard touchdown by Gary Bryant pulled the Huskies to within 27-20.
Uiagalelei, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound man-child, responded the way Josh Rosen used to as the quarterback for the Braves. He ran 44 yards, then passed 41 yards for a touchdown to Jake Bailey. St. John Bosco didn't let up. Josh Delgado scored on a one-yard run and Holani leaped into the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown reception.