In its second season in the CIF Southern Section’s Pac-5 Division, state No. 2 Corona Centennial captured its second consecutive championship with its second consecutive title game victory over St. John Bosco of Bellflower. In a wild offensive affair won by the Huskies 62-52, there was a total of 114 points and 1,193 yards combined by both teams. When CIF Section commissioners meet Sunday in Irvine, it will be an easy call to pit state No. 1 De La Salle vs. the No. 2 Huskies in the CIF Open Division state bowl game, the fifth meeting between the two programs in a CIF Bowl.
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Once in a while, there is great buildup to a CIF section final football game because of the “three Rs”: records, rankings, and recruiting. The 2015 CIF Southern Section Pac-5 final between Corona Centennial and St. John Bosco played Saturday night at Angels Stadium had those ingredients because of talented rosters filled with FBS-bound players, record-setting offenses and team rankings put out by various publications.
Centennial, the defending Pac-5 champions, came into the game ranked No. 2 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports with St. John Bosco right behind them at No. 3. Of course, some rankings had this as a national No. 1 vs. No. 2 game to drum up interest, and it somewhat worked. A solid count of 13, 599 fans came out to see the offensive frenzy, and in the end, it was Centennial out-lasting the Braves 62-52 in the offensive onslaught to capture the CIFSS’ most coveted title. With the victory, the Huskies will now take on state No. 1 De La Salle in two weeks for the CIF Open Division state title.
Centennial defeated Bosco for the second consecutive season in the Pac-5 title game, downing the Huskies in last year’s final 48-41. Centennial fell to De La Salle in last year’s CIF Open Division state title game and coach Matt Logan and his 120-plus deep club will get another crack at the Spartans on December 19 at Sacramento State, assuming the CIF section commissioners go ahead and choose the two when they meet Sunday in Irvine.
It will be the third meeting between the two powerhouse programs in the CIF Open Division bowl game in four years and their fifth meeting overall in a CIF Bowl Game. Since its 21-16 win over De La Salle in the 2008 CIF Division I bowl game, Centennial is 0-2 versus the Spartans in the open division game, losing in 2014 and 2012.
“I’m very proud of our guys, they worked hard all year..all the credit goes to them,” said Logan, who captured his 10th CIF Southern Section title overall on Saturday night. “We weren’t tested early, and that was a concern, but we showed the last two weeks we could play a close game.”
Centennial running back J.J. Taylor didn’t play in last year’s title game versus St. John Bosco, but the 5-foot-6, 165-pound running back was the difference in Saturday night’s game. The Arizona-bound back scored five touchdowns — gaining 271 yards on 41 carries. He scored four touchdowns in the first half, and three in the second quarter, including a 65-yard run with 34 seconds remaining before intermission, to spark Centennial to a 55-31 halftime lead.
“J.J. is a heck of a player…he willed us to victory tonight,” Logan said.
For good measure, Taylor also recovered a St. John Bosco (13-1) onside kick attempt after the Braves completed a 99-yard drive via an 11-yard touchdown run by Washington-bound scatback Sean McGrew (24 carries, 196 yards, 3 TDs) with 3:38 remaining in the game to cut their deficit to 10 points. Centennial (14-0) only scored one touchdown in the second half, but did enough damage in the first half, scoring on seven of its eight offensive possessions, and got just enough defensive stops to defeat a team some were calling equal or perhaps even better than its vaunted 2013 unit that defeated Centennial (in the now defunct SoCal open regional game) and De La Salle on its way to the CIF Open Division championship.
“We just tried to play our game and not get caught up in the hype,” Taylor said. “Rankings are rankings and don’t mean much until the end. When we got out to a great start, we just took it from there.”
Against a no-huddle spread offense that is the model for other programs around the state, and perhaps the nation, Bosco’s highly regarded defense just didn’t tackle and cover well enough in the first half to overcome the lapses. Starting St. John Bosco quarterback Quentin Davis, who came into the game with 39 touchdowns and two interceptions, was also picked off twice by the Corona Centennial secondary, once each by cornerbacks Camryn Bynum and Kentrell Love. To make matters worse for St. John Bosco, Davis left the game near the end of the first quarter with a shoulder injury and didn’t return. Sophomore Re-Al Mitchell came in and did an admirable job (7-of-14 passing, 179 yards, 2 TDs), but Bynum got himself another pick and it was just too tall an order against a team that could move the ball at will.
Centennial senior QB Anthony Catalano completed 11-of-18 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns and added 56 yards rushing on 11 carries. Senior WR Cameron Jackson caught three passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yarder on a lateral pass from senior WR Javon McKinley that gave Centennial a 48-24 lead with 2:45 remaining in the second quarter. McKinley, last year’s Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year, was just too physical for Bosco to handle on the outside. Despite being banged up, he finished with seven receptions for 132 yards, including one touchdown of 37 yards, and a couple of big tackles on special teams.
“I’ve been playing with him (J.J.) since we were little,” said Catalano. “He’s been doing things like this all the time. Our offensive line did a great job. We were just doing the best we could and not worry about anything else.”
Centennial was not worried about rankings, as it always eyes De La Salle in its final game regardless. In fact, it is much more worried about the nagging injuries to Taylor, McKinley, and left guard Daniel Juarez. To put it in perspective, Centennial beat a team that had moved up to No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps.com to set up one of those made-for-TV national No. 1 vs. No. 2 affairs that have happened about five times since 2000. It was a 13-0 vs. 13-0 matchup, which made it different those most of the other national No. 1 vs. No. 2 games that happen earlier in the season, but a few key points were not highlighted in the buildup to this game.
Bosco’s last loss was to a Corona Centennial program that has lost to De La Salle in its last two meetings at the end of the season. That holds weight in our eyes, especially since De La Salle lost early this season to Trinity of Texas. There’s also the key factor that California teams really haven’t fared well against national competition in recent seasons. Just last year, in fact, both Centennial and St. John Bosco lost to Bishop Gorman of Nevada, which finished No. 1 nationally last season, is currently ranked No. 1 by USA Today and hasn’t lost this season. Gaels fans who watched this game surely feel their team is even a stronger No. 1 now. It was an entertaining game, but there were miscues and in our long years of covering both the state and national scene, it just didn’t feel as if Bosco and Centennial were the nation’s two best teams on the field Saturday night.
“I honestly don’t pay attention to rankings,” said Logan, who won his 200th game earlier this season. “The only ones that matter are at the end. I’m just glad we got it done this night against this (Bosco) team. This was a highly ranked team from the get go, which has been different for us. It’s definitely one of the best teams we’ve had with a lot of committed guys (to colleges) before the season.”
Rankings and attendance aside, we just don’t know the true significance of this year’s CIFSS Pac-5 final because it’s not the final game of the season. In those other monster attendance games in CIFSS lore over the years that we detailed earlier this week, besides the ’94 Los Alamitos-Mater Dei semifinal, all the others were the final game of the season and involved a national No. 1 team. There are more results and common opponents to analyze over the next two weeks and when it’s all said in done, St. John Bosco might not even finish the season No. 3 in the state even though it came into this game No. 1 in the nation by some.
Current state No. 1 De La Salle won its 24th consecutive CIF North Coast Section title earlier Saturday evening. The expected December 19 showdown will be the first series of CIF Bowl games not played at the Home Depot Center in Southern California. Should De La Salle soundly defeat Centennial in the CIF Open Division state bowl game, this game would lose significance in the overall picture of the state’s biggest games over the years. Should it be a close game in De La Salle’ favor or if Centennial wins going away, it’s significance will be revisited.
It’s significance doesn’t matter to Logan and the rest of the Centennial program, however, because winning two consecutive CIFSS Pac-5 championships is a major accomplishment — and because the players still have to strap it up one more time this season.