In a chess match between two of the Southland's best coaches, it was Santa Ana Mater Dei's defense that kept Mission Viejo in check, intercepting three passes, recovering a fumble and forcing a turnover on downs deep in its own territory to key the Monarchs' 21-14 Southern Section Pac-5 Division quarterfinal win Friday at Santa Ana Stadium.
Landon Iakopo rushed for 41 yards in eight carries, but his biggest contribution came on the opposite side of the ball when he knocked down a pass at the goal line on fourth and goal from the 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter. The Monarchs took over and proceeded to run almost eight minutes off the clock.
"We played hard for 48 minutes, the coaches were tremendous and it was a heck of a football game," Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson said. "I thank the Trinity League for this win. We have to battle every week for every inch and this was business as usual."
Mission Viejo (11-1) drove 80 yards in seven plays to close within a touchdown, scoring on Ian Fieber's 24-yard pass to Connor Hill with 42 seconds left, but Koby Lowe recovered the ensuing onside kick to clinch the win for the Monarchs (10-2), who are relishing their rare role as underdogs and will play Long Beach Poly on the road next Friday.
"I think we'll probably be the underdogs again next week but that's okay, we don't worry about that," said Rollinson, who has been involved in his share of tight games since taking over the Monarchs' program in 1989. "I feared this might be a boat race but our defense played great -- particularly the secondary. We wanted to stop the run and pressure the quarterback and we did both. As far as our offense, we have confidence in [quarterback] Chase Forrest and our offensive line did a good job protecting him."
Matthew Rockett caught a pass over the middle for a 28-yard touchdown play, then picked off Fieber's sideline pass at the Diablos' 36-yard line. Eight plays later Chase Forrest found Jacob Welch on a 15-yard slant-in to give the Monarchs a 14-7 lead with 4:29 left in the second quarter.
Iakopo's three-yard run increased the Monarchs' lead to 21-7 and later he blocked a punt that Adrian Contreras recovered at Mission Viejo's 23-yard line, setting up Michael Lugo's 53-yard field-goal attempt that was blocked by Mission Viejo cornerback Chris Brown to end the first half. Mission Viejo running back Alex Suchesk gained 58 yards in six carries but was injured late in the second quarter and did not return.
Lowe scored on a 50-yard punt return in the first quarter, but it was nullified by a penalty.
After misfiring on his first two throws -- one of which was intercepted by Diablos safety Hunter Remington -- Forrest completed seven straight and finished 7 of 11 for 107 yards.
Fieber completed three of 14 passes for 39 yards yards in the first half, including a two-yard scoring strike to Daniel Marx midway through the first quarter. He also had two interceptions, including one by Jonathan Lockett, who also intercepted a halfback option pass by Rome Innocenzi. Fieber finished 10 of 29 for 137 yards.
"They've been ranked the No. 1 team in Orange County all year, but we earned our respect tonight," Rollinson said. "We went back and looked at every trick play they've ever tried against us and I figured [Mission Viejo Coach] Bob Johnson would try another one."