RELATED: Top 25 Weekend Scoreboard
We had a chance to evaluate St. John Bosco’s 75-35 rout of L.A. Crenshaw on Friday and De La Salle’s 35-10 victory over Servite on Saturday. Since we just saw the state’s two top-ranked teams on back-to-back nights, we decided to break down the squads by comparing and contrasting their units. Keep in mind, Servite was a stronger overall team than Crenshaw. This analysis could potentially be a preview of this year’s CIF Open Division State Bowl Game.
Quarterbacks: De La Salle’s Chris Williams is a strong-armed lefty (he’s also a baseball standout) who is a good athlete running the Spartans’ veer-spread offense. Williams can run, but he needs to learn to take some mustard off his downfield throws. St. John Bosco’s Josh Rosen is a big, strong-armed signal-caller who gets the ball to his receivers in the right spots. He, too, needs to work on his touch in tight spots. Rosen also has a capable back-up in senior Andrew Katnik and he has plenty of game experience. ADVANTAGE: St. John Bosco
Running Backs: St. John Bosco has a serviceable back in junior Manasseh Anesi and sophomore Sean McGrew also has some talent. They can move the chains, but are not burners by any means. De La Salle has a strong crop of backs, as it usually does. John Velasco is a tough downhill runner who can move the chains and sophomore Antoine Custer is a quick back who can move well east-west. The duo gives De La Salle a good contrast, plus star running back Dasmond Tautalatasi has not been playing offense. If he gives Sparta quality carries in future games, it will make the offense that much more potent. ADVANTAGE: De La Salle
Offensive Line: Make no mistake, St. John Bosco’s offensive line is special. Led by left tackle Damien Mama, the unit is stable but wasn’t too relentless against Crenshaw. It’s probably because they didn’t have to be because the Shaw’s d-line was overmatched. Bosco has a huge line across the board (RG Matthew Katnik is 6-2, 296) but it remains to be seen just how good they are going after second level defenders or just how fresh they’ll be after Trinity League play. De La Salle, is not as big overall as Bosco, but the unit is big by De La Salle standards led by left guard Larry Allen Jr. The Spartans are effective running behind right guard Drew Sullivan. Sparta set the tone in the Servite game by blowing open a huge hole of its first offensive snap. Of course, the Spartans fire off the line well which has been a trademark of the program the last 20 plus years. ADVANTAGE: Even
Offensive Ends: Neither team has an elite talent on the outside. De La Salle has two-deep interchangeable wideouts with solid hands. DLS QB Williams was 0-for-3 in the first half against Servite and in the second half Marquis Morris had a drop behind the defense, but the ball was a bit under thrown. Bosco has a solid unit, but it wasn’t able to get much separation against Crenshaw (perhaps not many units could). Bosco was effective on crossing routes and solid on timing patterns. One Bosco wideout with some major league wheels is Shay Fields. He could be a key to Bosco’s fortunes in the CIFSS Pac-Five playoffs because he’s a playmaker. ADVANTAGE: St. John Bosco
Defensive Line: St. John Bosco’s 3-4 alignment up front is a solid, but not spectacular, unit. It has some good, lean size but at times the group plays high. On the flip side, they are good side-to-side and in space. They won’t overpower teams, but they are athletic and can keep QBs from making plays with their feet. DLS’s line made big plays against Servite. Sumner Houston is quick off the snap, can move laterally and has a nose for the ball. (He also starts at left tackle). In DLS’s 4-3 scheme, junior Kahlil Mckenzie is aggressive and can create havoc against the run. ADVANTAGE: De La Salle
Linebackers: St. John Bosco has four good ‘backers and they support the run better than they drop deep in obvious pass situations. They keep running plays in front of them well, but are a bit susceptible on the edge against speed backs. Christian Holland (6-1, 210) is a standout who flys to the ball for the Braves. De La Salle has three solid ‘backers, led by David Ortega (5-10, 225), but uncharacteristically missed some open field tackles up the middle against Servite. Sideline-to-sideline, this unit gets the job done. De La Salle has definitely had better linebacker units, but we’re comparing this one to some of the best ‘backer units in state history. ADVANTAGE: Even
Defensive Backs: De La Salle’s Kevin Griffin and Jerek Rosales are above average cover corners downfield. Rosales is especially adept at breaking up passes at the last second. Tautatalatasi isn’t running the ball right now, but he’s still an aggressive safetyman with good hands and good instincts. St. John Bosco’s secondary can tackle on the edges as well as some of De La Salle’s vintage secondaries of yesteryear. Led by corner Naijiel Hale and safety Jaleel Wadood, this unit made several big, clean hits on Crenshaw ball carriers and immediately stopped the play when they came up in run support. De La Salle has a real good unit, but Bosco potentially has a special unit. ADVANTAGE: St. John Bosco
St. John Bosco kicker Reid Budrovich puts it in the end zone almost every time. Bosco has solid tacklers on both its offensive and defensive special teams units, but the offense has been scoring so many points the units also haven’t had to execute in tight, pressure situations just yet. De La Salle, too, doesn’t have to punt or kick field goals much, but it has a solid kicker and the coverage units fly downfield. Griffin, who suffered an injury near the end of the game against Servite, blocked a punt against Servite and the Spartans are always a threat in that department because they traditionally get upfield fast and tackle well. Much has been made about the coaching change at top for the Spartans (from legendary mentor Bob Ladouceur to former player Justin Alumbaugh), but there isn’t major noticeable differences in terms of strategy or style of play. St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro is in his fourth season, and this team is more complete than the one that advanced to the CIFSS Pac-Five Division semifinals last year. His team is well-rounded and has the luxury of a capable back-up quarterback, but will be under tremendous pressure to win the Trinity League with an unbeaten slate (on-the-field) for the second consecutive year. On the other hand, De La Salle should roll through the rest of the regular season and into the CIF North Coast Section playoffs. ADVANTAGE: De La Salle
If this game were played tomorrow, we would give De La Salle the slight edge. The main reason is not the quality of personnel, because Bosco is a fine team, but because St. John Bosco has never been in this position before. In fact, the Braves last appeared in a section final in 1986. De La Salle has won a North Coast Section title every season since 1992 and has been in this position before. That is the main difference basically.
De La Salle has won the last four CIF Open Division bowl games in dominant fashion and with its 35-10 win over a solid Servite team has now won 59 consecutive games versus California foes. No team, not even state team of the year Mission Viejo in 2004, performed well against De La Salle the first time it has played them and that is another reason to give the Spartans an advantage on paper.
St. John Bosco, with its personnel, would likely give De La Salle its best game in a CIF Open Division final, since Crenshaw of Los Angeles in 2009. There is no doubting Bosco’s talent level. However, we don’t know how banged up or even how Bosco’s lineup will look in December after Trinity League play and the CIFSS Pac-Five Division playoffs, not to mention the regional bowl game the Braves would have to win in Week 15. Attrition could play a factor should the matchup occur. De La Salle, meanwhile, doesn’t have nearly as tough a road and usually adds a wrinkle or has a unit of its team vastly improved by December.
It would truly be remarkable if St. John Bosco entered a game against De La Salle 15-0, but keep in mind it could easily be Mater Dei of Santa Ana who we could be having this discussion about. In fact, besides an opening round playoff game, St. John Bosco and/or Mater Dei might not have an easy game left on the way to a possible matchup against De La Salle. And De La Salle will have to possibly get past a potentially better version of Folsom one week earlier as well.