It's my 39th season covering high school football. When I saw seven iPads lined up on a table behind the Santa Ana Mater Dei bench Friday night for coaches to watch instant replays against La Puente Bishop Amat, I shook my head and mumbled, "Wow."
When I was covering John Elway throwing touchdown passes for Granada Hills High in 1977, there were no smartphones, let alone compact computers. You ran to a pay phone to dictate your story. That's when I could run a 6.1 40-yard dash under deadline pressure.
High school football keeps evolving on the field, in the stands, in the press box. What's happening in the pros and in college filters down, the good and the bad. What hasn't changed is the energy and emotional commitment that comes out when playing on Friday nights.
Mater Dei, ranked No. 5 by The Times, and No. 6 Bishop Amat went back and forth at Santa Ana Stadium determined to make a season-opening statement. In the end, the Monarchs ground out a 24-21 victory behind a persistent ground attack that featured three short touchdown runs and 133 yards rushing by senior Brandon LaMarche.
Smash-mouth football was deployed by Mater Dei in the second half after the Monarchs fell behind, 21-14. In the third quarter alone, the offense had the ball 11 out of 12 minutes.
The message sent to Mater Dei's future opponents is you must prepare to deal with the Monarchs' giant offensive tackles. On one side is 6-foot-6, 295-pound USC commit Frank Martin. On the other side is 6-7, 323-pound Tommy Brown, the son of Foothill baseball Coach Vince Brown, who blames his son's size on his mother.
Coach Bruce Rollinson, dressed out in new Nike white shoes, wanted to do all he could to protect junior quarterback Matt McDonald, who was making his first varsity start. McDonald passed for 90 yards and was intercepted twice. He handled the pressure well.
"It was a pretty dominant performance up front," Rollinson said.
The big surprise was Bishop Amat's lack of consistency on offense. The Lancers had better speed than Mater Dei, but the Monarchs' secondary did a terrific job containing Bishop Amat's USC-bound receivers, Tyler Vaughns and Trevon Sidney. The Monarchs came up with three interceptions against veteran Bishop Amat quarterbacks Damian Garcia and Ryder Ruiz. Roman Kafentzis, Quentin Lake and Nicholas Bauer came up with interceptions.
And it was lineman Kapono Laguisan taking down Ruiz with a sack on fourth down with two minutes left to put the finishing touch on the victory.
Running back Torreahno Sweet of Bishop Amat had 98 yards rushing and scored on runs of 47 and 13 yards.
This game will help the Trinity League come playoff time when it comes to determining toughest league. But Bishop Amat shouldn't panic about losing in its opener. Last season, Corona Centennial lost to Mater Dei and went on to win the Pac-5 Division title.