Elijah Brown and Mater Dei get best of St. John Bosco 42-21

Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown makes a pass against St. John Bosco.
Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown makes a pass against St. John Bosco on Friday night.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)
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Sold-out stadium of 6,000 pumped-up fans. Some 60 players with college scholarship offers. No. 1 vs. No. 2 in California high school football. Expectations were high, and all you can say about Friday night’s game between Santa Ana Mater Dei and Bellflower St. John Bosco is that the person who was selling four tickets for $500 on Craigslist on Monday was asking way too little.

This was big boy football at its very best, and the player left standing tallest was sophomore quarterback Elijah Brown of Mater Dei. Playing a position made famous by the likes of Matt Leinart, Matt Barkley, JT Daniels and Bryce Young, Brown is on his way to blazing his own trail of excellence. He passed for five touchdowns and connected on a string of nine consecutive completions in the Monarchs’ 42-21 victory in a Trinity League opener.

St. John Bosco came after him early, hitting him hard and even picking up a roughing-the passer penalty. But Brown just doesn’t lose his composure ever.


“That was a crazy game,” Brown said. “They came after me with everything they had. My OL progressed as the game went on.”

After a 21-21 deadlock at halftime, the Monarchs (4-0) made some defensive adjustments in the secondary and twice stopped the Braves (5-1) on fourth-down incompletions in the second half. Meanwhile, Brown passed 31 yards to Cooper Barkate and 19 yards to Jack Ressler for touchdowns in the third quarter. He finished 13 for 18 for 263 yards. Ajon Bryant added a 29-yard touchdown run in the fourth.

“Bottom line, is in the second half, we didn’t come to play,” St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro said of getting shut out for the final 24 minutes.

The first half couldn’t have been more exciting and back and forth. In a sign of how well coached these two programs are, each offense scored on its opening series. The scripted plays worked. Brown completed a three-yard touchdown pass to CJ Williams for Mater Dei. Katin Houser ran two yards for a St. John Bosco touchdown.

The Braves regained the lead in the second quarter on a 48-yard touchdown pass from Houser to Colin Chase. Mater Dei quickly answered with Williams catching a 29-yard touchdown pass. Then Chedon James caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Pierce Clarkson. Mater Dei followed with Barkate scoring on a 23-yard reception.

The big surprise of the first half was St. John Bosco coming out passing. Houser and Clarkson combined for 245 yards, completing 13 of 17. James had five catches for 122 yards and finished with seven receptions for 145 yards and one touchdown. The absence of USC-bound cornerback Domani Jackson (knee injury) in Mater Dei’s secondary was noticeable. Linebacker Malaki Te’o made up for the absence with two big tackles for losses.

Neither Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson nor Negro was about to celebrate a Trinity League championship. They know a surging Anaheim Servite (6-0) is looming at the end of the month.


“You still have to get through the Friars, who are racking up points and crushing people,” Rollinson said. “The seeding for Division 1 is what’s on the line, and the rest of the Trinity League has dramatically improved.”

The game was so well played that there were no turnovers. Raleek Brown helped take pressure off Brown with 93 yards rushing in 21 carries.

Because St. John Bosco and Mater Dei have played in the Division 1 final every full season since 2016, any kind of matchup between the schools has taken on a whole different level for high school football in Southern California. Some 2,500 remaining tickets for the game put on sale Monday sold out in four minutes. The atmosphere featuring tailgate parties in the parking lot, loud music in the stadium and 6,000 fans packed together and loudly rooting for their team was one of a kind for Southern California.

Can other teams emulate the domination of Mater Dei and St. John Bosco? Remember that Rollinson went 17 consecutive years from 2000 through 2016 without winning a Division 1 championship until he started copying some of the things Negro had been doing, such as creating a youth program and making outreach to youth programs outside Orange County to expand roster demographics.

That’s the strategy for private schools hoping to make a dent. For public schools, it’s much harder because of attendance boundaries.

Somehow, someway, Corona Centennial stays competitive year after year under coach Matt Logan.