A Southern Section Division 1 championship game that had the early makings of a Santa Ana Mater Dei rout was answered by the roar of excited St. John Bosco fans chanting, “Let’s go Bosco” as the third quarter ended on Saturday night at Cerritos College.
A turnaround that few saw coming was really happening. The Braves were rising up ignited by their 6-foot-5 senior quarterback, DJ Uiagalelei, and a talented group of receivers who had enough of losing to Mater Dei in championship games.
Uiagalelei passed for 444 yards and five touchdowns to rally the Braves (12-1) to a 39-34 victory over Mater Dei. The Braves had lost to the Monarchs in the last two championship games and were beaten 38-24 by Mater Dei in a Trinity League game on Oct. 25.
Down 28-5 in the second quarter and 28-12 at halftime, the Braves did something no team has done against the Monarchs — they forced standout quarterback Bryce Young (405 yards passing, five touchdowns, three interceptions) to make mistakes and rode the wave of strong play on the offensive and defensive lines.
An eight-yard touchdown catch by Kris Hutson with 30 seconds left before halftime signaled the start of St. John Bosco’s comeback. Then Hutson caught a 26-yard touchdown pass on the Braves’ opening possession of the third quarter.
The final play. St. John Bosco wins 39-34. pic.twitter.com/3hZcjtWams— eric sondheimer (@latsondheimer) December 1, 2019
The deficit was reduced to 28-26 with 57 seconds left in the third quarter when tight end Adam Awaida caught a 25-yard touchdown pass. Then defensive lineman Nathan Burrell jumped up and intercepted Young on the Mater Dei 17. Logan Loya caught an 11-yard touchdown pass for a 32-28 Bosco lead, its first of the game. Then Loya caught a 26-yard touchdown pass.
The momentum was total St. John Bosco, and Mater Dei was feeling it. Receivers were dropping passes, adding to the Braves’ confidence as their supporters loudly roared with approval. St. John Bosco was able to sack Young a season-high four times.
The last sack was the decisive one. Mater Dei (12-1) had the ball on the St. John Bosco 13. The Monarchs had stuffed Uiagalelei on fourth and one from the St. John Bosco 29. There was 1:30 left when Ma’a Gaoteote rushed in from the left side, tackled Young and knocked the ball loose. St. John Bosco recovered.
“On the last drive, we got into the wrong protection,” Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said. “It was that kind of a night.”
Young badly overthrew a pass for an interception, fumbled on a scramble and was called for an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone, resulting in a safety. He kept fighting. His 23-yard touchdown pass to Kyron Ware-Hudson with 5:38 left pulled Mater Dei to within 39-34. The crowd of 9,993 stood on both sides and tried to outshout the other. The game ended with Hutson intercepting the ball in the end zone on the final play.
“At halftime, we had to make adjustments and keep fighting,” said Loya, who caught 10 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. “We executed. We have the best receiving corp in the country. Our line did an outstanding job. I believed we could come here and win.”
St. John Bosco lost fumbles inside the 20 and inside the 10, helping to produce its slow start. The Braves also gave up touchdowns on a blown secondary coverage and when a defender fell down.
On the third play of the game, Young passed 62 yards to Quincy Craig for a touchdown. It was 14-0 less than three minutes in after a six-yard touchdown pass to Ware-Hudson. Linebacker Raesjon Davis was disrupting the Braves with his pass rush. By halftime, Mater Dei led 28-12.
Uiagalelei did his best to keep the Braves in the game. He passed for 232 yards in the first half, and there were signs St. John Bosco’s offensive line was becoming effective in giving him time to throw.
The rhythm in the first half was awkward for both teams. From TV timeouts to Young taking his time in calling plays, it was almost a chess match for fans watching from the bleachers. Young wasn’t in his sharpest form and St. John Bosco shut down his top receiver, Kody Epps, who came in with 10 touchdown catches in two playoff games. He caught one pass all night.
“They were relentless and that’s what you have to do to beat a team like this,” St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro said.
Sophomore CJ Williams stepped up to catch four passes for 76 yards in the first half. He finished with nine receptions for 108 yards.