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People in Southern California had been saying in recent weeks that this year’s St. John Bosco of Bellflower football team is the best they’d seen in 10 years – loaded with prospects on both sides of the line with a big-time junior quarterback in Josh Rosen directing it all.
After the Braves beat legendary program De La Salle of Concord 20-14 on Saturday night at the StubHub Center in Carson, it looks like those folks were wrong. Coach Jason Negro’s team might be the best from the Southland in 30 years.
With the victory, St. John Bosco not only ended De La Salle’s current winning streak at 40 games, not only ended the Spartans’ run of four straight CIF Open Division titles but also completed a 16-0 season. It isn’t the first 16-0 season in state history, but tied the record set earlier in the day by Corona del Mar of Newport Beach.
On Monday, the Braves will be named the State Team of the Year by Cal-Hi Sports and probably will be No. 3 in the final FAB 50 national rankings. De La Salle (14-1) will fall to No. 2 overall in the final state rankings and probably to around No. 10 nationally.“We are a second half team and coach just told us (offensive linemen) to keep our composure,” senior All-American lineman Damien Mama. “Our defense stepped up big-time. Coming into the game, a lot of people doubted us. That added fuel to our fire and it helped us out as a unit.”
Rosen connected with Jaleel Wadood for two touchdown passes – a 60-yarder early in the second quarter and another from seven yards out with 29 seconds left before halftime. He finished 12 of 17 for 200 yards and two TDs.
“We wanted to end the season without a loss and we had a target on our back all season,” Rosen said.
Sophomore Sean McGrew, who scored seven touchdowns in last week’s shootout win over Corona Centennial, didn’t get into the end zone for Bosco in this game but he did rush for 148 yards on 24 carries.
“Going into this week, we knew it was going to be the best defensive line we’ve ever seen,” McGrew said. “We had a great week of practice, working hard on our schemes.”
For one of the rare times, De La Salle didn’t out-rush the opposing team. The team did pick up 17 first downs and senior John Velasco capped a strong season with 21 carries for 93 yards.
“We had a lot of desire, and our kids played really hard, we just didn’t play well,” said De La Salle head coach Justin Alumbaugh. “That was a really high caliber football game, good hitting by two good teams going at it.”
Fourth quarter frenzy
For most of the game, and into the fourth quarter, it looked like St. John Bosco’s advantages were going to result in a more convincing win. De La Salle was bogged down with poor field position and with 8:48 left the Braves took a 20-7 lead on a 29-yard field goal by Reid Budrovich.
But the Spartans haven’t done all that they’ve done by wilting away against a more talented team. With 6:27 left, senior quarterback Chris Williams (6 of 14, 97 yds passing; 39 yds rushing) tossed a bomb down the left hashmark that teammate and track star Marquise Morris caught for a touchdown. Just like that, and after the PAT, De La Salle was within 20-14.
Morris’ big catch also fired up the Spartan defense. A sack by sophomore Devin Asiasi and then a bobbled shotgun snap led to the Braves having to punt with 4:38 left. De La Salle was in business at the Bosco 44-yard line and had plenty of time to drive the field for a possible game-winning touchdown.
“On the play I got sacked, there was a busted route,” Rosen said. “On the next play, I just picked up the ball and it was soaking wet. If I would have lost that ball and we would have lost that game, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself for the rest of my life.”
After picking up one first down to the Braves’ 33-yard line, the drive stalled and the Spartans had to go for it on fourth down. They tried a screen pass, but senior Gavin Windes came up with the biggest defensive play of the night for St. John Bosco. He tipped the pass, then grabbed it for an interception.
The Braves still needed to run off 2:15 from the clock to secure the win. After a Spartans’ timeout with 1:28 left, they faced third and five. Rosen then faked to McGrew, kept the ball and raced for 37 yards to the 11-yard line. All that was left for the Braves was to kneel down twice.
How good was this De La Salle team?
Before answering how high to consider St. John Bosco’s 2013 team, first it’s necessary to ask how strong was this edition of the Spartans.
Entering the game, most in Northern California thought of the first team under Alumbaugh to be just as strong as the last four. The linemen blocking up front – particularly seniors Sumner Houston and Larry Allen Jr. – are considered among the best in school history and that doesn’t change with this loss.
Unfortunately for De La Salle, St. John Bosco’s linemen, for the most part, won the battle up front. It was a group led by senior Mama (6-5, 350) plus juniors Zachary Robinson (6-5, 308) and Matt Katnik (6-2, 296).
With linemen like that, plus the explosive players on the edge, the Braves appear to be stronger than Centennial of Corona of 2008, which was the last California team to beat De La Salle and finish No. 1 in the state.
A quick glance at all of the other State Teams of the Year from Southern California that we’ve seen at Cal-Hi Sports gets us back to 1993 for a team that we like just as much as this year’s Braves and that was Eisenhower of Rialto. The Eagles (14-0) won the CIF Southern Section top division title that year with a 52-3 win over Mater Dei of Santa Ana.
“They’ve got to be way up there,” said Alumbaugh when asked to compare the Braves to other teams De La Salle has faced in the past. “I’d say they’re right up there with the 2001 (Long Beach) Poly team.”
Harold Abend and Ronnie Flores contributed to this report. Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @CalHiSports