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St. John Bosco-Mater Dei playoff game features a quarterback matchup for the ages

St. John Bosco-Mater Dei playoff game features a quarterback matchup for the ages
Quarterbacks J.T. Daniels, left, of Mater Dei and D.J. Uiagalelei of St. John Bosco lead their teams into a Saturday showdown for the Southern Section Division 1 title. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times; Jeremiah Soifer)

If you have no allegiance to Bellflower St. John Bosco or Santa Ana Mater Dei, but are a fan of high school football, Saturday's 7:30 p.m. Southern Section Division 1 championship game at Cerritos College is a must-see event.

The two starting quarterbacks, sophomore D.J. Uiagalelei of St. John Bosco and junior J.T. Daniels of Mater Dei, are destined to become nationally recognized athletes.

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Uiagalelei, 6 foot 4, 230 pounds, is having a better sophomore season than Josh Rosen did in 2012 for the Braves. St. John Bosco's brain trust, head coach Jason Negro and offensive coordinator Chad Johnson, thought they were fortunate having Rosen, who's gone on to UCLA and could be the first quarterback taken in next year's NFL draft.

"What's pretty remarkable is when you have Josh Rosen, you say, 'He's a one-in-a-lifetime guy.' Then, a few years later, you get another," Negro said.

Uiagalelei started the season as the backup quarterback to Re-Al Mitchell, an Iowa State commit. The Braves' offense was sputtering while playing top teams early in the season. In the fifth game, when St. John Bosco was trailing in the fourth quarter against Washington, D.C., St. John's, Uiagalelei rallied the team to victory.

The next week, he shared duties with Mitchell. Then he became the full-time starter for a league game against Mater Dei after Mitchell was sidelined with an "undisclosed injury."

Uiagalelei is more than physically imposing. He's a top athlete who also plays basketball and baseball. He can throw a football with immense power and precision. He has passed for 2,733 yards and 29 touchdowns with two interceptions. Last week, he had a 77-yard touchdown run against Corona Centennial.

"He wants to learn," Negro said. "He wants to get better. He wants to be the best for our team."

Daniels, 6 foot 1, 195 pounds, is a proven talent already committed to USC. When Daniels was a sophomore, Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson turned over the offense to him and he responded with 4,849 yards passing and 67 touchdowns. This season, he has added another dimension — the ability to run. He gained 97 yards rushing in a 31-21 win over St. John Bosco on Oct. 13, stunning the Braves with his speed.

"He's tremendous," Negro said. "He has so many talented abilities and now running is another one."

Rollinson said it was his decision to limit Daniels' running until this season.

"The reality is J.T. could run as a freshman, could run as a sophomore. I was the one who said 'No, I don't want you out of the pocket. I want you to be conservative,'" Rollinson said. "This year, I said, 'Hey, go have fun. Do what you have to do to put us in position to win.' Personally, I think J.T. was getting boxed in as a pure dropback passer who could not run."

St. John Bosco is grateful they now know what Daniels can do with his feet because they will be better prepared after the league loss.

"It took us by surprise," linebacker Spencer Gilbert said. "Now we know and we've made adjustments to combat that."

This game has so many prolific matchups: Mater Dei's receivers vs. St. John Bosco's secondary; Mater Dei's offensive line vs. St. John Bosco's defensive line; St. John Bosco's running backs vs. Mater Dei's linebackers.

"There's so many matchups across the board that will be great," Negro said. "It's going to be a great chess match."

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Uiagalelei's sudden emergence has added a new element to a showdown that was already expected to be good.

"I was ready to wait, but if my time ever came, I was going to make the best of it," Uiagalelei said.

It means a quarterback matchup for the ages is about to take place.

Twitter: @latsondheimer

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