Before Friday night’s Southern Section Division 1 championship football game, Santa Ana Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson gathered more than a dozen of his assistants to give a pep talk. They put their arms together in a circle, then headed off to the locker room. Their week-long preparation and strategy played out to near perfection in a 17-13 upset of No. 1-seeded Bellflower St. John Bosco.
“At halftime I said believe for 24 minutes and here we stand,” Rollinson said while surrounded by his players at Cerritos College. “This was a great one.”
The Braves (13-1) hadn’t scored fewer than 35 points in any game this season and had put up 49, 56 and 56 points in three playoff victories. But the Monarchs’ ability to control the clock with methodical patience, combined with strong defensive play on the line, left the Braves unable to counter. Mater Dei (12-2) won its 11th title and second in a row.
After a 7-7 halftime tie, Bru McCoy caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Young with 1:22 left in the third quarter to give the Monarchs a 14-7 lead.
Mater Dei then drove to a first-and-goal from the one, when St. John Bosco held and forced a 22-yard field goal try. Chris Steele raced in from right end and went airborne, hurling his body toward the ball being kicked by Nick Lopez. His hands made the block and Trent McDuffie picked up the ball and ran 74 yards for a touchdown. St. John Bosco turned a possible 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter into a stunning new lease on life.
But the Braves were so excited they missed the conversion kick. It was 14-13 Mater Dei with 10:12 left. A 42-yard field goal by Lopez with 4:40 remaining increased the lead to 17-13. St. John Bosco never came close to wiping out that deficit.
Mater Dei defensive linemen Evan Bennett and Jalen Lockett put on strong pass rushes to make quarterback DJ Uiagalelei uncomfortable, something that happened rarely last month when St. John Bosco defeated the Monarchs 41-18. Uiagalelei completed only seven of 19 passes for 110 yards and was intercepted twice. Mater Dei’s Elias Ricks picked up his ninth interception of the season.
Young completed 15 of 22 passes for 177 yards. He looked like an NFL quarterback waiting to call the snap just before a delay-of-game penalty could be called, using up all of the clock. Mater Dei had the ball for 31 1/2 minutes compared to St. John Bosco’s 16 1/2.
After the Braves scored on their opening drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Uiagalelei to Jude Wolfe, the offense had only three other possessions in the first half. The Braves ran only 15 plays. The Monarchs tied it on Shakobe Harper’s two-yard run in the second quarter.
Mater Dei now gets a week off before probably advancing to the CIF state championship Open Division Bowl game on Dec. 8 at Cerritos College. Concord De La Salle is expected to be the opponent, though play won’t be finished until next week in Northern California.