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Mater Dei set to defend CIF Open Division state football title against an improved De La Salle

Mater Dei set to defend CIF Open Division state football title against an improved De La Salle
Mater Dei running back Shakobe Harper, hurdling an IMG Academy defender earlier this season, has 1,150 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns this season. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It’s rematch time in the CIF state championship Open Division football bowl game on Saturday night at Cerritos College.

Seven-time state champion Concord De La Salle (12-0) and defending champion Santa Ana Mater Dei (12-2) are facing off for the second year in a row in the 8 p.m. final. Last season, Mater Dei won 52-21.

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If the Monarchs score that many points Saturday, Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson would probably shave off his mustache in celebration because De La Salle's defense this season is much improved. A 14-0 season-opening win over high-scoring Folsom should be a warning to prevent any Mater Dei overconfidence.

“We've been relying on defense all season,” De La Salle coach Justin Alumbaugh said.

Alumbaugh is in his sixth season as head coach since taking over for the legendary Bob Ladouceur, who continues to help out as an assistant coach. Due to wildfires in Northern California and poor air quality, the Spartans went three weeks without playing a game and missed many days of practice. A 42-7 win over Brentwood Liberty last week knocked off any rust.

Here’s a look at players to watch in a game that will decide the best football team in California.

Bru McCoy, Mater Dei, receiver: The consensus No. 1 senior in California is a player feared by opponents on almost every offensive play. Alumbaugh remembers him from last season. “I’m assuming he's better, and he was pretty good," he said. McCoy has caught 17 touchdown passes and has five sacks playing linebacker.

Mater Dei receiver Bru McCoy signals a first down after making a catch against IMG Adademy earlier this season.
Mater Dei receiver Bru McCoy signals a first down after making a catch against IMG Adademy earlier this season. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Amir Wallace, De La Salle, cornerback: He is likely to cover McCoy. Wallace shut down one of the state’s best receivers, Joe Ngata of Folsom, limiting him to six catches and 50 yards. At 6-feet-1, he has the size to challenge McCoy on jump balls.

Bryce Young, Mater Dei, quarterback: JT Daniels led Mater Dei to a 15-0 record last season. Young, a junior, has the Monarchs in position for a second consecutive state championship. He has passed for 3,550 yards and 37 touchdowns. It will be his decisions on whether to take off and run or stay in the pocket that could decide this game.

Henry To’oto’o, De La Salle, linebacker: At 6-2 and 225 pounds, To’oto’o is easy to spot on defense. He’s the one making tackle after tackle. If the Spartans are to put pressure on Mater Dei, he must help stop the Monarchs’ rushing attack.

Shakobe Harper, Mater Dei, running back: If there’s an unsung hero this season for the Monarchs, it’s Harper, who has rushed for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was supposed to lose his starting position to Sean Dollars, a transfer from Rancho Cucamonga. Harper instead has been a key player in creating opportunities for the passing game by picking up the tough yards inside.

Beau Tagaloa, De La Salle, lineman: The younger brother of UCLA center Boss Tagaloa will be counted on to deal with Mater Dei’s physicality up front and help the Spartans execute their veer attack on offense as well as stop the run on defense.

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