This wasn’t so much a victory as it was a grand larceny, the Santa Ana Mater Dei High football team running a pigskin version of the pick-and-roll against Corona Centennial on Friday night.
The Monarchs returned four interceptions for touchdowns — three by junior defensive back Elias Ricks — in the first 19 minutes in Santa Ana Stadium, turning what was expected to be a tight Southern Section Division 1 semifinal between two national prep powers into a 48-14 Mater Dei blowout.
“It’s crazy; I think there were magnets in my hands or something,” Ricks said. “I don’t know what it was. I just had a knack for the ball tonight. I wanted to double my stats. Last year I had four picks, now I have eight. So I reached my goal.”
The Monarchs, 11-2 and ranked second in the nation by MaxPreps, advance to next Friday night’s Division 1 championship game against top-ranked St. John Bosco at Cerritos College. The fifth-ranked Huskies finished 12-1.
Mater Dei quarterback Bryce Young completed 14 of 24 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns, both to star receiver Bru McCoy, who caught eight passes for 135 yards. Shakobe Harper rushed for 110 yards in 17 carries, but it was the defense that keyed the Monarchs victory.
Mater Dei stopped Centennial on three fourth-down plays in the first half and forced a key fumble when it appeared the Huskies might get back into the game in the third quarter.
“I’ve coached for a long time, and you have four pick-sixes in the first half? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that on any level,” Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said. “Elias just locked it up. We challenged him, and he had a phenomenal game. I can’t say enough about what our defense did tonight.”
The only negative for the Monarchs — they were penalized 19 times for 179 yards, continuing a trend that has troubled them all season.
“It’s bothered me all year,” Rollinson said. “I don’t know what to say. Is it all us? I don’t know. I just find it hard to believe that there were 180 yards’ worth of penalties. There are some stupid ones I’d like to have back, but I certainly saw enough of them.”
The Huskies looked like they might make a game of it when they trimmed a 35-0 halftime deficit to 35-14 in the third quarter.
Reggie Retzlaff turned a short pass from Carter Freedland into a 76-yard touchdown, and after Centennial blocked a Mater Dei punt deep in Monarchs territory, Thomas Kinslow ran two yards for a touchdown to make it 35-14.
But Kinslow later fumbled, Mater Dei linebacker Moses Sepulona recovered and returned it 17 yards to the Huskies’ 45-yard line, and Young hit McCoy on a post pattern for a 45-yard touchdown and a 42-14 lead with 2:28 left in the third.
The most anticipated game of the season got off to a peculiar start when Centennial, appeared to score on Freedland’s 50-yard keeper on its first possession. But the play was nullified because the officials were not ready.
Ala Mikaele, who alternates at quarterback with Freedland, dropped back on his first play from his six-yard line and threw a pass right into the hands of Ricks, who practically walked 11 yards into the end zone for a 7-0 Mater Dei lead.
Ricks was just getting warmed up. Freedland replaced Mikaele on Centennial’s next possession and threw a second-down pass intended for Gary Bryant.
Ricks stepped in front of the receiver for his second interception and raced untouched 32 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 5:20 left in the first.
Early in the second, Ricks picked off another Freedland pass intended for Bryant down the left sideline and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
Monarchs freshman defensive back Joshua Hunter joined the pick party later in the quarter, intercepting a Freedland pass and returning it 48 yards for a touchdown with 5:13 left in the first half.