For anyone hoping that it might be different this year in California prep football — with Mater Dei of Santa Ana and St. John Bosco of Bellflower holding a wide gap in talent, explosiveness and size mixed with elite coaching over any other schools — then you can probably forget it. Mater Dei opened its season Friday as the two-time defending CIF Open Division state champion (also ranked No. 1 in the state) and took on preseason state No. 4 Centennial of Corona. It wasn’t close. The Monarchs won 42-12.
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It’s hard to say what was more impressive about state No. 1 Mater Dei of Santa Ana’s 42-12 victory on Friday night over No. 4 Corona Centennial in a season opener for both teams played at the Santa Ana Bowl.
Was it the Monarchs’ defense, which had the Huskies blanked 42-0 early in the fourth quarter and had us scrambling to look up the last time that Centennial was shut out? Or was it senior quarterback Bryce Young, who was remarkably sharp in the first half and led two nearly length-of-the-field scoring drives?
Given that Centennial is a program that has often averaged more than 50 points per game for a season, from a historical perspective, the defense might have been a touch more stellar.
“You know what, we learned a lot about this team tonight,” said Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson, who still needs one more win according to the Cal-Hi Sports state record book to reach 300 for his career (not including forfeits). “We knew we had some speed on defense, but the way we played with those two goal-line stands just stood out.
“We were playing a team that has festering to play us for 11 months and we’ve been a team reading all about this ranking and that ranking. But they came out here and just took care of business.”
Centennial had lost to Mater Dei 48-14 in last year’s CIF Southern Section Division I semifinals and that was a team that was 12-0 at the time. The Huskies also are the last team other than Mater Dei or its Trinity League rivals from St. John Bosco (Bellflower) to win a CIFSS D1 title (2015) and they are the last public school team in California to be State Team of the Year (2008).
While the gap in talent between the two teams was obvious, Centennial still had golden opportunities to score early in the game. Head coach Matt Logan’s squad got down to the Mater Dei 4-yard line on its first series, but was pushed back from there and couldn’t convert on a fourth-and-goal from the 11. Then later on, after the Monarchs already were ahead 14-0, the Huskies drove down to the 2-yard line. Two incomplete passes ended that opportunity.
Young then struck for four straight completed passes to lead the Monarchs back down the field in the other direction. He scrambled for another first down to the 2-yard line and then hit on a two-yard touchdown pass to Kody Epps. The converted PAT made it 21-0. Centennial wasn’t close after that.
By the time Young was done in the fourth quarter, the USC commit had completed 19 of 26 passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns. He had his second TD on a 15-yarder to junior Kyron Ware-Hudson just before halftime and closed out the scoring for the Monarchs with an eight-yard TD to junior Cristian Dixon, a transfer from Diamond Ranch of Pomona. All facets of his game, from release to pocket presence, seemed improved from last year and he already was one of the best quarterbacks in the nation as a junior.
Mater Dei also unleashed sophomore Quincy Craig early in the game. He scored the team’s first touchdown of the season on a 57-yard run that came right after that first goal-line stand. Fullback Cameron Leofa added a 1-yard plunge while senior linebacker Rey Leutele grabbed an easy interception at the 6-yard line and scampered in the end zone for a score.
None of the coaches were thinking about a shutout, but when it got to 42-0 with a running clock early in the fourth quarter the possibility was all too real. Centennial hasn’t been blanked since a loss to Eisenhower of Rialto in the 1998 season so after checking the Cal-Hi Sports records the consecutive game scoring streak was sitting at 294 games. The Huskies put that notion to bed and scored in their 295th straight game on a 21-yard touchdown run by running back Nick Floyd. Their primary threat in the game, senior receiver Gary Bryant Jr., finished with seven catches for 181 yards.
If you’re wondering what the state record is for consecutive game scoring for a team it also was extended on Friday night, although Los Alamitos lost 30-10 to Torrey Pines of San Diego. The Griffins have not been blanked since 1987, a streak of 406 straight games (also a national record).
“If we could have scored in those first and second drives, then we might have been in good shape,” said Logan, who may get to 300 career wins himself in a few years. “Not coming away with points killed us.
“We’ve just got to execute better. In the second half, I told them, just get back out there and play. We had the opportunity to practice against a great team to try to get better.”
Mater Dei will host Villa Park in its next game on Saturday, Aug. 31. Centennial hosts another Trinity League team, Orange Lutheran, at home on Friday.