Mater Dei of Santa Ana collects its second consecutive CIF Open Division state title with 35-21 triumph over one-time nemesis De La Salle of Concord on Saturday night at Cerritos College. It also will give the Monarchs a share of the mythical national title for the second straight year but may not be unanimous like last year. In addition, head coach Bruce Rollinson celebrated 300th career win, although in the state coaching records we do he still needs two more for 300 wins “on the field.” Go inside this post for all details and for recaps of the four NorCal regional finals and the D4-AA state championship that was played on Saturday night.
(Orange County correspondent Chuck Nan provided invaluable assistance to this post.)
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De La Salle of Concord head coach Justin Alumbaugh said after last year’s 52-21 loss to Mater Dei of Santa Ana in the CIF Open Division state final in Sacramento that “there was no margin for error” in playing a squad of that caliber. The Spartans learned that lesson once again on Saturday night at Cerritos College as they fell to the Monarchs 35-21 in this year’s state final.
Four lost fumbles and a high punt snap that was recovered on the De La Salle 17-yard line were all converted into touchdowns by the Mater Dei offense. While it was just 14-7 at halftime, a quick score by the Monarchs to start the third quarter and then another one after the second DLS fumble put this one seemingly out of reach. In last year’s game, Mater Dei led 21-0 in the first quarter and basically sealed it with a 28-7 lead in the second quarter on an interception return touchdown.
It wasn’t quite out of reach for the Spartans, however, as they gained some life in the third quarter on a 68-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Dorian Hale to sophomore Lu-Magia Hearns. Mater Dei had to punt on its next series, which led to that punt being blocked by Erich Storti of the Spartans. James Coby then converted that blocked punt into a 1-yard touchdown run and suddenly with half of the fourth quarter still to go it was Mater Dei 28, De La Salle 21.
That’s as close as the Spartans would get. Mater Dei junior quarterback Bryce Young completed three passes to standout senior receiver Bru McCoy and one to tight end Michael Martinez (including a pair of one-handed catches by McCoy) that got the ball down to the DLS 15-yard line (a 15-yard personal foul on the Spartans also helped). The drive culminated with a 15-yard touchdown run by Shakobe Harper (his third scoring run of the night).
In desperation mode with 3:55 left and no timeouts, De La Salle then lost another fumble and that was basically it. The Spartans finished 12-1 and will likely stay at No. 3 in the final state rankings, which still have one extra week to be completed since there are many more CIF state finals to be played next weekend.
It wasn’t quite the same journey as the 2017 Monarchs, who didn’t lose a game and were rarely even threatened during a dominant performance that pushed them to No. 1 in every national ranking. The 2018 Monarchs (14-1 on the field) had to bounce back from a forfeit loss to Bishop Amat of La Puente (from a game they won on the field), a 41-18 loss in October to league rival St. John Bosco of Bellflower and scratched out a 24-21 win on September over IMG Academy of Florida (perhaps the only team in the nation that currently can match the talent on the roster of the two Southern California superpowers). Still, it was equally satisfying to veteran, legendary head coach Bruce Rollinson.
“What they’ve done to pull it together after that first loss to St. John Bosco down at the (Santa Ana Bowl) is amazing to me,” said Rollinson, whose team avenged that earlier loss to St. John Bosco with a 17-13 win over the Braves in the CIF Southern Section Division I title game two weeks ago. “They pulled it together, they re-focused, and then they started marching. They started believing in each other. Their work ethic was excellent.”
The school and some media outlets were celebrating Rollinson’s 300th career win in addition to the state title. The technicality for that is that two of those wins were actually games on the field that Mater Dei lost that later were changed to forfeit wins. Not counting forfeits or defaults and just on the field results, Rollinson still needs two more wins to reach 300. He’s already told the Orange County Register he plans to return for the 2019 season.
One of those in California history with 300 wins or more and still the winningest head coach in Southern California history is former St. Paul of Santa Fe Springs and Tustin head coach Marijon Ancich. As the De La Salle-Mater Dei game headed into the second half, news began spreading that Ancich had died earlier on Saturday from complications of a stroke.
The winningest in state history is former De La Salle head coach Bob Ladouceur, who was on the sidelines as an assistant to Alumbaugh once again on Saturday. Despite the loss, the Spartans have still won the most CIF state football titles with seven, although they now have six losses in state finals as well.
“We wanted to stop them, march down that field, and knew what two-point play we were going to go for,” Alumbaugh remarked when asked about the game’s final minutes. “We were confident we could get it done, but we couldn’t get them off the field. Those guys are great. They beat IMG, they beat Bosco. I just wish we were a little cleaner.”
Facing a De La Salle defense that earlier in the season shutout state No. 5 Folsom (which scored 84 points in its game on Friday), the Mater Dei offense had 463 yards. Young completed 18 of 25 passes for 296 yards and one TD, but the best Monarch teams tend to be more balanced and for that they had Harper with 22 carries for 125 yards and three TDs. McCoy was the top receiver with seven catches for 116 yards and one score.
The De La Salle head coach, in his fifth season, said later to the Bay Area News Group that All-American candidate linebacker Henry To’oto’o suffered an injured foot on Friday, which is why he didn’t play at all on offense like he usually does. Reporters in the press box also noticed he wasn’t getting in on very many tackles like he usually does, either.
Amazingly, the Spartans’ running game was held to negative yards by the Mater Dei defense. Hale’s ability to pass the ball, unlike the last two years, however, did help keep his team in the game. He went 10 of 19 for 254 yards and two TDs.
“I commend De La Salle,” Rollinson said. “They gave us everything we could handle. Offensively, I thought we were inconsistent but we made great plays. The consistency was the defense we’ve been playing since the Bosco game. I can’t say enough about the defense. They just shut it down. They followed the plan.”
Starting junior cornerback Elias Ricks, who recently tied a state record with three interception return TDs in the team’s CIFSS D1 semifinal win over Corona Centennial, did not suit up for what was widely reported but not confirmed by Rollinson as a discipline issue. That this Mater Dei team could repeat without Ricks playing in the state final, without 2017 all-state junior linebacker Mase Funa all season and without 2017 all-state sophomore offensive lineman Myles Murao (injury) says a lot about the team’s depth.
So does that mean Year 3 of the Monarch Reign will continue? We’ll see.
In another CIF state title decided on Saturday and in the CIF NorCal regional finals played on Saturday:
NorCal D1-A: Liberty (Brentwood) 33, Valley Christian (San Jose) 21
The Lions (12-1, No. 14 in the state) bounced back from their 42-7 loss to De La Salle in last week’s CIF North Coast Section Open Division final to beat the CCS Open 2 champs on the road. A 13-yard TD pass by junior Jay Butterfield to Jerrin Easter-Williams gave Liberty a 27-21 lead in the fourth quarter. A 25-yard fumble return TD by Darrion Bartley with 29.5 seconds left iced the win. Valley Christian (11-3, No. 15 in the state) trailed 21-7 but tied the score in the second half on a 1-yard run by Thomas Dunham. The Lions will now travel to Cerritos College for the D1-A state final next Saturday against Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth).
NorCal D2-A: San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) 69, Tulare 25
After scoring 68 points in their section final, the Panthers went for 69 in beating the Tribe in a matchup of unbeaten CIF Central Section divisional champions. It wasn’t lost on many of them that it was a D3 title team beating one from D2, but despite those numbers this SJM squad (14-0, ranked No. 41 in the state) has some legit talent. San Jose State-bound WR/DB Josh Kelly caught two TD passes and had two interceptions to help the Panthers to a 49-25 lead at the half. San Jose State-bound QB Alec Trujillo also had six TD passes, two of those going to junior Jalen McMillan, one of the top sophomore multi-sport athletes in the nation. Tulare, which was No. 42 in the state, lost in the NorCal regionals for the second straight year. The Panthers will now play state No. 22 Lawndale next Saturday afternoon for the CIF D2-A state title.
NorCal D3-A: Wilcox (Santa Clara) 34,
Capital Christian (Sacramento) 30
Ryan Cooper Jr. caught a 42-yard TD pass and scored on a 98-yard kickoff return to lift the Warriors (13-1), who advanced to next week’s state championship in which they will be the host school against SoCal champion Kaiser of Fontana. Wilcox, known more for its rushing game, took the lead against the previously unbeaten Cougars on a 15-yard TD pass from Alex Adame to Nick Malvini with 5:44 left in the game.
State D4-AA: Pleasant Valley (Chico) 43, Central Valley Christian (Visalia) 14
Since there was a bye on the NorCal side of the CIF bowl lineup, it was decided to have the Vikings (10-3) host CVC one week before the rest of the CIF state title games are to be played. They didn’t wait long to to take control. Dalton Walker returned the opening kickoff 84 yards for a score and then a fake punt set up another TD. By the time Tanner Hughes tossed a scoring pass to Dane Garrett it was a 23-0 lead for Pleasant Valley. Head coach Mark Cooley’s squad won its second CIF state title in three years. That first one came in D4-A in 2016 with an overtime win against St. Anthony of Long Beach. The visiting Cavaliers ended 11-3.
NorCal 4-A: McClymonds (Oakland) 28, Aptos 20
The Warriors have a reign of their own going in the lower divisions of the CIF bowls and will try to make it three state titles in a row they take on Garfield of Los Angeles in next week’s state championships. McClymonds had to travel to Santa Cruz County for this game and needed a 5-yard TD run in the fourth quarter from San Jose State recruit Adi Anderson to take a 21-20 lead and put it further out of reach. Aptos (11-3) stayed close behind senior Marcos Reyes’ three touchdowns. Jarmar Julien had the biggest night for Mack with 21 carries for 192 yards and three TDs. When asked about Julien, McClymonds head coach Michael Peters told the Santa Cruz Sentinel: “That was the plan, to give him the ball and let them hit that big piece of meat.”