There was smiling, howling and high-fives among the players as they came out of the locker rooms for pregame warmups at Santa Ana Stadium on Friday night. It was a clear sign of the excitement, anticipation and hype that had been building for weeks.
This high school football matchup of Santa Ana Mater Dei taking on Florida IMG Academy and featuring more than two dozen top college prospects drew a capacity crowd of more than 10,000. There were so many people holding cameras and trying to make a video, tweet or Instagram post go viral that you thought Lonzo Ball and Chino Hills basketball were back in session.
Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson didn’t hold anything back. The Monarchs twice scored touchdowns in the third quarter on trick plays.
Quarterback Bryce Young came through in the clutch in Mater Dei’s 28-24 victory. He scored on a six-yard touchdown run with 1:09 left for the game winner, capping a 75-yard drive and finished 21 of 30 passing for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
The game was disrupted repeatedly by penalty flags. IMG had two players ejected because of personal fouls. Mater Dei finished with 155 yards on 16 penalties, IMG 138 yards on 14.
By the fourth quarter in a tie game, IMG started turning to its SEC-recruited running backs, Trey Sanders (181 yards rushing) and Noah Cain (130 yards). Cam Gillis’ 35-yard field goal with 3:27 left broke a 21-21 tie.
The third quarter saw both teams get rolling after IMG held a 7-6 lead at halftime. Mater Dei pulled off the trick play of the night to take the lead. Young handed off to Shakobe Harper, who pitched the ball to Bru McCoy, who pitched the ball back to Young. Young threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Sean Dollars, then hit Michael Martinez for a two-point conversion pass and a 14-7 lead.
Sanders, a former Alabama commit, took off on a 76-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14. Then Mater Dei used a tackle eligible play to go up 21-14. Young found Myles Murao, wearing uniform No.74, for a 12-yard touchdown pass. IMG tied it up on a Michael Redding 22-yard TD reception from former Upland quarterback David Baldwin-Griffin.
Someone forgot to tell the officials to stay invisible, because the penalty flags were flying from the outset. There were 18 penalties in the first half and four other off-setting penalties.
IMG is the nation’s No. 1 sports academy. Its “blue” football team has players from 17 states, plus Canada and Hungary. Sixteen of its players have made college commitments. Corona Centennial put up strong competition against IMG the previous two seasons, losing 40-20 last season and 50-49 in 2016. Mater Dei, coming off a 15-0 season, decided to schedule IMG.
Asked if he had any words of wisdom before the game, Centennial coach Matt Logan said, “Do you want to drive a Ferrari or a Lamborghini?”
In other words, there’s little difference between the two programs. Former Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley was on the sideline rooting for the Monarchs.
But IMG won’t be making anymore trips to California. CIF representatives passed a rule that bans California teams from playing schools not eligible for their state playoffs starting next season. IMG has chosen not to compete in the Florida state playoffs.
This last hurrah and the nine college commits Mater Dei has made it quite an attractive game for television and fans.