For most of the season, the Mater Dei offense received the attention, but Friday it was the defense that carried the Monarchs to an undefeated regular season.
Mater Dei held off a stubborn Capistrano Valley team to pull out a 20-15 victory before 5,500 at Capistrano Valley High.
The victory gave the Monarchs (10-0, 5-0 in league), the South Coast League championship, and in all probability the top spot in the Division I playoffs that begin next week.
But Capistrano Valley (7-3, 4-1) made Mater Dei earn every bit of its league crown. The Cougars got 213 yards from running back Malaefou MacKenzie, whose 80-yard touchdown sprint in the fourth quarter got Capistrano Valley to within 20-15. The "The game was everything I thought it would be," Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson said. "A test of character for both sides. We could not put them away."
Capistrano Valley was looking for its first league victory against Mater Dei and came the closest it has in the last three seasons. But just as the Monarchs couldn't stop MacKenzie, the Cougars never got a handle on receiver Rod Perry Jr., who had six receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown.
"I thought Perry was the difference," Cougar Coach Dave Brown said. "We couldn't cover him. I thought we did pretty well in other areas. I couldn't ask the team for a better effort."
Capistrano Valley pulled out all the stops, off the playing field as well. The school added 600 temporary seats, and also sold standing-room-only space to accommodate the crowd.
Defensively they used MacKenzie at outside linebacker in certain schemes with the hope he could cover Perry over the middle.
But Perry, who had all of Mater Dei's 99 receiving yards in the first half, seemed unstoppable.
Disaster loomed for Capistrano Valley on its first play from scrimmage when fullback Charlie Landrigan fumbled and Mater Dei defensive back Joey Boese recovered at the Cougar 23.
James Farley took it from there, blowing through the middle of Capistrano Valley's defense and stopping 23 yards later after he had scored his 13th touchdown of the season. The extra point was missed and the Monarchs led, 6-0.
Capistrano Valley took the ensuing kickoff and drove to the Mater Dei four, only to stall. Matt Donoho finished off the 68-yard, nine-play drive with a 23-yard field goal to make it 6-3.
Midway though the first quarter, both defenses settled down and settled in.
Both quarterbacks led second-quarter drives that were stopped by interceptions; a Moherman pass was picked off by Kevin Mitchell at the Mater Dei 29, and Wes Brown grabbed a Stremick pass at the Cougar eight.
With 3:14 left in the half, the Monarchs got on the scoreboard again. Stremick moved Mater Dei from its 17 to the Capistrano Valley seven, the big play being a 45-yard pass to Perry. From the seven, Stremick arched the ball into the left corner of the end zone and Perry ran under it for his 10th touchdown of the season.