If a championship high school football game was ever worthy of filling the 27,000-seat StubHub Center in Carson, it's the CIF Open Division bowl game Saturday between Bellflower St. John Bosco (15-0) and Concord De La Salle (14-0).
These two teams have been front and center as the best in the state for 15 weeks. They've shown few weaknesses while letting their gigantic linemen and big-time college prospects take center stage. Now comes a matchup that should produce plenty of drama.
"It's an opportunity we're excited about," St. John Bosco Coach Jason Negro said. "We're happy and want to represent Southern California the right way. We're going to practice hard all week, and we're going to prepare for them. Hopefully, we'll give them a game and see what happens in the fourth quarter."
De La Salle is still De La Salle, even though legendary coach Bob Ladouceur stepped down at the end of last season to become an assistant with the program after compiling a record of 399-25-2. Justin Alumbaugh has made a smooth transition as the new coach by putting the Spartans right where they have always been since the bowl games began in 2006, preparing for their annual trip to Carson.
They've lost only twice in eight bowl games, to Canyon Country Canyon in the inaugural game in 2006 and to Corona Centennial in 2008. The last few years, the games haven't been close. There was the 35-0 rout of Westlake Village Westlake in 2011 and the 48-8 drubbing handed to Anaheim Servite in 2010.
Everything revolves around an offensive line that in some ways has more precision and cohesiveness than a synchronized swim team. As Servite Coach A.J. Gass puts it, "They move as one and it's a thing of beauty to watch."
Servite, a league rival of St. John Bosco, lost to De La Salle, 35-10, on Oct. 5. Servite also lost to St. John Bosco, 42-21, on Nov. 8.
Gass said of St. John Bosco's chances, "It's going to be very difficult."
The secret to beating the Spartans is getting off to a good start, forcing De La Salle to pass, and finding a way to deal with offensive and defensive lines that average 273 pounds and have star quality. Among the linemen are Larry Allen, the 285-pound son of the NFL Hall of Fame lineman by the same name; Kahlil McKenzie, the 316-pound son of Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie, and Sumner Houston, a 260-pound Oregon-bound standout.
Considering that St. John Bosco's offensive line is the strength of its team, the game is shaping up as a smackdown in the trenches like few others.
And don't anyone think St. John Bosco can't match the Spartans player for player. In Saturday night's 70-49 regional playoff victory over Corona Centennial, sophomore running back Sean McGrew rushed for 367 yards and seven touchdowns.
"The holes were so big," McGrew said.
Added Negro: "He's got a lot of speed, and we're great up front. All he needs is a little seam and he can pop it."
Sports fans in Southern California have never embraced state high school championships like they do for basketball in Indiana or for football in Texas, where more than 48,000 showed up for a championship football game at this time last year.
But Saturday's 8 p.m. Open Division matchup, one of five bowl games over two days, is so intriguing and compelling that football fans of all ages and loyalties might finally decide this is the game to see on the weekend before Christmas.