Quarterback J.T. Daniels of unbeaten Santa Ana Mater Dei must feel as if he's under Secret Service protection each time he steps onto the football field. His offensive linemen provide such good protection and create so many opportunities for the skill-position players that as a group, they're probably the MVPs of the 12-0 Monarchs.
Of course, the starting five of tackles Tommy Brown and Myles Murao, guards Mason Kolinchak and Chris Murray and center Kekaniokoa Gonzalez are almost invisible to everyone but their parents and friends. People usually don't notice linemen unless there's a holding penalty called. And yet, these are the big bodies up front propelling the Monarchs to prominence.
On Friday night in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals, the Monarchs scored touchdowns on eight of 10 possessions en route to a 55-13 victory over Long Beach Poly.
"We dominated up front," Coach Bruce Rollinson said.
Offensive line coach Chris Ward, a former Mater Dei and UCLA lineman, was asked if he could've started on this unit. "I don't think so," he said.
Daniels completed 16 of 22 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Sophomore Elias Ricks had two interceptions and came up with the defensive play of the game, dropping highly recruited receiver Jalen Hall for a two-yard loss on fourth down in the second quarter.
Daniels wasn't sacked. Mater Dei didn't punt for the third consecutive game. On one of Shakobe Harper's two touchdown runs, the hole was so big Rollinson could have carried the ball and scored.
"We have great chemistry," said Murray, a 6-foot-3, 295-pound senior with lots of scholarship offers. "There's no confusion."
Brown, a 6-7, 330-pound senior headed to Alabama, said, "It's just awesome to be part of a brotherhood so united."
Receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who had touchdown receptions of nine and 26 yards, wasn’t kidding when he said the Monarchs try to score on every down.
In the first half, Mater Dei scored on all four of its possessions to open a 27-13 lead. Daniels was 12 of 16 for 207 yards.
Poly got an important touchdown at the end of the half to keep the game somewhat competitive. The Jackrabbits got a 48-yard reception on a fake punt from Aashari Crosswell and then Matt Corral completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Hall as time expired.
Mater Dei's secondary is loaded with talented sophomores from last season's unbeaten freshman team, and they more than held their own.
Corral, who has committed to Florida, finished 16 of 34 for 154 yards with two interceptions.
Now the big question: Could Ward really be not good enough to start on Mater Dei's line?
"He's joking," Brown said. "But it's a pretty good offensive line."
Mater Dei will play at unbeaten Mission Viejo (12-0) in next week's semifinals.