On dominant night, Mater Dei caps unbeaten season with Open Division state bowl title

Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown (12) and receiver Cooper Barkate (18) celebrate a touchdown.
Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown (12) and receiver Cooper Barkate (18) celebrate after connecting for a touchdown against San Mateo Serra on Saturday in the CIF Open Division state bowl game.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

It was a Saturday night to cherish for Santa Ana Mater Dei sports fans. The evening began with the announcement in New York that quarterback Bryce Young, class of 2020, had won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the third Monarch to win college football’s most prestigious award. Then, at Saddleback College, the Monarchs completed an unbeaten football season to win a mythical national title with a 44-7 victory over San Mateo Serra in the CIF state championship Open Division bowl game.

From late August, when Mater Dei (12-0) started the season traveling to Texas and routed Duncanville, to a cool, cloudless final evening in December, when the Monarchs showed their superiority on both sides of the ball, there have been few teams capable of offering a challenge. Powerful offensive and defensive lines, a sophomore quarterback who’s 17-0 as a starter and skill position players with speed and talent separated the Monarchs.

USC-bound running back Raleek Brown had touchdown runs of one, three and 15 yards. Quarterback Elijah Brown completed 18 of 25 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns.


The domination began early against outmanned Serra (11-2), the Northern California representative that took a charter plane to the Southland. Elijah Brown connected with Cooper Barkate in full stride for a 78-yard touchdown. Then Malaki Te’o returned an interception 21 yards for a touchdown for a 14-0 lead. Then Tanner Williams stripped the ball and Joshua Hunter recovered it on the Serra three. Raleek Brown scored on a one-yard run for a 21-0 lead.

The strength of Mater Dei’s defense has been its agile, quick linebackers. David Bailey, a Stanford commit, and Te’o use their speed to fill holes and aggressively attack ball carriers. They’re consistent tacklers and rarely make mistakes. They’ve been that way for four months.

“The defense is the best I’ve ever seen,” Serra coach Patrick Walsh said.

And Elijah Brown’s play just adds to a storied quarterback history at Mater Dei with two years of high school left.

“I got to see him develop and adapt through my eyes and the sky is the limit with him,” Barkate said. “He’s only going to get better.”

Mater Dei has been experiencing a talent surge, helping explain how it has won state bowl championships three times in the last five years under coach Bruce Rollinson, who has a 329-86-2 record in 33 seasons.

But Rollinson’s program has come under scrutiny for off-the-field issues. For two weeks, there have been revelations in court documents from lawsuits about Mater Dei football players engaging in violent behavior, leading to the school and Diocese of Orange trying to counter the allegations with promises of an investigation into safety practices and a commitment from school president Father Walter E. Jenkins that “all aspects will be handled consistently and in accordance with the core values of our institution.”

It was on the eve of the Southern Section Division 1 final that the family of a former football player filed a lawsuit alleging he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a locker room hazing incident last February in which players punched each other. Another lawsuit came to light from a 2019 incident in which football players allegedly attacked a Mater Dei basketball player off campus.

Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson is hoisted on the shoulders of his team after winning the CIF Open Division state title.
Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson is hoisted on the shoulders of his team after winning the CIF Open Division state championship bowl game on Saturday night at Saddleback College.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Rollinson has declined to comment. The offseason now begins with uncertainty as to where things are headed.

Attendance for five bowl games held at Saddleback College was 13,923, including 9,203 for three games on Saturday.