This Tie Should Be Considered a Victory for Battling Monarchs


Mater Dei 21, Long Beach Poly 21.

Southern Section Division I co-champions were crowned Saturday night at Edison Field. When the crowd of 19,304 heard the announcement of no overtime and when Mater Dei’s Ray Gilbert carried the ball for a 10-yard gain at the Monarch 25-yard line as time expired, the crowd booed. The crowd wanted a winner. The crowd wanted overtime. The crowd wanted a desperation pass at the end, a Hail Mary try.

The crowd was wrong, the boos should have been cheers.

Cheers for the young and restless and undefeated Jackrabbits who will have all sorts of pressure in the future but who could play with fearless joy this time. Cheers for the all-heart Monarchs too, especially for the Monarchs.

You lose your star, the hardest-hitting football player around, the guy who gained 244 yards in this same game a year ago. You lose him on the second series of the first quarter. An innocuous carry for a one-yard loss and a right ankle bent and twisted so badly that X-rays are needed and the diagnosis is inconclusive. The ankle is broken? No, not broken but very badly sprained.


So Matt Grootegoed stands and watches. Mater Dei’s mascot for three quarters, an edgy, hurting safety, running back, quarterback, who can’t do a thing but hope and pray, lick his lips, close his eyes, clasp his hands behind him, limp back and forth, back and forth, wearing a red windbreaker and anguish.

Grootegoed missed the horrible turn of events in the second quarter when the Monarchs were driving, inside the Long Beach Poly 10-yard line, aiming for a 17-7 lead. They were very close to grabbing momentum by the neck until tailback Junior Palacios had the ball stripped, had the fumble recovered by the Jackrabbits. Grootegoed was in an X-ray machine when Poly’s fabulous sophomore running back Hershel Dennis galloped 79 yards and missed scoring a touchdown only because Palacios snagged an ankle. Then Poly’s other tailback, Douglas Hines, scored a touchdown with 2:07 left in the second quarter.

Lucky for Grootegoed that he hadn’t returned to the sidelines yet when the Monarchs, already stung by his absence, were befuddled when Poly tried a short, bouncing kick that hit off two Monarchs and was recovered by the Jackrabbits and which led to a touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Fasavalu to wide receiver Dante Washington. So close to a 17-7 lead, the Monarchs went limping off at halftime trailing 21-10.

And then they heard the news.

Grootegoed would not be playing again, ever, for Mater Dei.

Jackrabbit Coach Jerry Jaso had said before the game that he thought Grootegoed’s 1998 effort was the best he’d ever seen in such a big game.

Grootegoed was not to be consoled at the end of his final high school game. Grootegoed yelled, “Defense, defense, defense,” and he paid attention to the Monarchs’ backup free safety, Darius Williams, a junior playing the spot Grootegoed should have been in, knocking the breath out of Jackrabbits left and right.

The Monarchs come back. Of course they come back.

Mater Dei could have have been demoralized after being manhandled by Concord De La Salle in September but these are hard-nosed kids who would not ever pack it in.


This is why Grootegoed is disconsolate while the Monarchs are being presented with their co-championship.

His team had come back to tie the game and received the ball at its 14-yard line with 1:21 left in the game. After two short runs and an incomplete pass, Coach Bruce Rollinson made the decision to run out the clock, to accept the tie. It was the right decision. The only decision.

“Sure,” Rollinson says afterward--while some people are still booing and a man shouts, “What is this, soccer?”--”this is a little bit like kissing your sister. But you know what, after losing Matt, I know one thing. The pain of this loss would have been astronomical. Ten years from now, when the kids talk about this, we’ll be champions. They’ll drop the ‘co.’ ”

Palacios was crying afterward too. Palacios had rushed for 106 yards, caught five passes for 57 more. He tried to take up Grootegoed’s offensive yards, as if one man could. “You lose a guy like Matt Grootegoed, you don’t know what to do,” Palacios says. “A tie? It feels incomplete. I don’t know what to feel right now. But I’m very proud of this team, especially after how we started the season.”


Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address: