Mater Dei caps unbeaten, state and national No. 1 season with rout of San Mateo Serra in Open Division. It’s too bad, though, the school handled its post-game interactions with the media the way it did. That other Serra, from Gardena, did much better in D1-A with a win over Liberty of Bakersfield. The day began with Scripps Ranch of San Diego winning the D2-A state title against Wilcox of Santa Clara.
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(Thanks to Orange County/Trinity League correspondent Chuck Nan for writing the game story for the D1A contest)
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The smiling faces were the same plus there were all the high-fives, hugs and emotions on full display in the aftermath of a 44-7 win by Mater Dei of Santa Ana over Serra of San Mateo in Saturday’s CIF Open Division state championship at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo.
But there also was an undertone of circling the wagons, us-against-the-world and us-against-the-media as the players and coaches did not talk to anyone with a credential. The only two players who were allowed to speak were captains C.J. Williams and Elijah Brown, who were brought to a small group of reporters after they were done with the team’s traditional hut drill that is executed after every game.
The game itself was expected to be one-sided and it was, but it wasn’t known what to expect afterward since the Mater Dei program has been embroiled in a wave of negative attention due to a hazing incident caught on video in which a player suffered a brain injury and then the announcement by the school president that an independent investigation would be done surrounding the football program.
The players and head coach Bruce Rollinson could have answered questions about the game but not about anything related to the other situation. A pool reporter idea could have been floated or a school media person (of course Mater Dei has one) could have issued comments. Instead, it was purposeful silence. It was security guards ushering players away from anyone even trying to say hello or congratulate a player. It was an official from the school uttering commands to the one player who did stand in a circle with several reporters and did answer questions for nearly 10 minutes. “Ask another question, keep it to the game,” she would say.
If it had been a closer game or if there was some kind of record-breaking performance, then perhaps the conduct of the school toward the media might not have been the most interesting aspect of the evening. But it certainly was and it was something that many longtime journalists covering the game found infuriating and had not experienced in many years. This wasn’t just any game, either. This was the Open Division state final.
“Definitely the defense was the key to this game,” said Williams, who has been one of the team’s leading receivers for three years and showed grace in handling a difficult role in speaking on behalf of everyone else at the school on a state championship night. “In the last three games they overperformed against great teams. Obviously the turnovers tonight, the early ones, gave us a boost.”
Williams said that the idea of carrying Rollinson on their shoulders on the way to the awards stand was from the other coaches.
“We all wanted to do it for Coach Rollo in spite of everything,” he added. “And we gave the trophy right to his daughter.”
Rollinson did not even talk to the TV broadcast as he usually does following a major championship or accept the CIF title plaque. Two of the captains went up to get it instead.
Since Mater Dei was viewed as one of the biggest favorites in CIF state title game history (our prediction was 42-14 and the CalPreps computer had it 48-0), the likelihood of the Monarchs going up to get that trophy was very high. And this also was all happening hours after former Mater Dei quarterback Bryce Young (now at Alabama) won the 2021 Heisman Trophy, becoming the third former Monarch to win that prestigious award.
We’ll have more about the historical context of what the Monarchs did this season and how they wrapped it all up when they are officially named State Team of the Year on Monday. The biggest accomplishments included a 12-0 final record and a third CIF state title in the last four seasons. The first two were back-to-back crowns for 2017 and 2018 in which J.T. Daniels (Georgia) and Bryce Young were the quarterbacks.
Serra came into the game at 12-1 and was moved up to No. 5 in the state after it avenged its only loss with a win over St. Francis of Mountain View in the CIF Central Coast Section D1 championship. The Padres will still be No. 1 in the final rankings for Northern California but will stay behind the big four in the south of Mater Dei, Servite of Anaheim, St. John Bosco of Bellflower and Centennial of Corona. They will also likely fall behind Mission Viejo (No. 5 overall in the CIFSS).
“I’ve never seen or had to coach against a defense like it in my career,” said Serra head coach Patrick Walsh, who gave Rollinson as emotional and as strong a hug as any coach we’ve ever seen after losing in a state championship game. “They were just that good. The turnovers early on were killer, but I only cared about how hard we fought. We came here to fight and clearly we came here to win.”
The Padres started out with a nine-play drive that chewed out some clock and pinned back the Monarchs for their first series on the 6-yard line. It was no problem. After Elijah Brown completed his first pass for 14 yards, he went deep and connected with Cooper Barkate for a 78-yard bomb that went for a touchdown.
The turnovers began on Serra’s next series on the third play and it wasn’ just any turnover. It was a pick six of 21 yards by senior Malaki Teo. The Padres then gave up a fumble on their next series on a force by Tanner Williams. That set up Mater Dei for its third touchdown on a one-yard plunge by senior Raleek Brown.
Serra did an effective job of only being down 24-0 at halftime after that early sequence and could have scored on the last play of the second quarter. An attempted sneak from inches away from the end zone, however, went awry on a poor snap.
Mater Dei increased its lead to 31-0 in the third quarter on a 3-yard run by Raleek Brown before Serra came up with its best drive of the night – 6 plays, 79 yards – that ended with QB Dominique Lampkin scrambling for an 18-yard touchdown.
The Monarchs punched in their final two scores on a 15-yard run by Raleek Brown and then a 5-yard pass by Elijah Brown to Quincy Craig, who has been the team’s Swiss Army-knife for the last three seasons. Craig scored the first touchdown of the season for the Monarchs in 2019 as a sophomore and he got the last in 2021.
Petelo Gi of Serra was the game’s leading rusher with 122 yards on 25 carries. Lampkin added 68 yards rushing, but struggled as a passer.
Elijah Brown remained the front-runner for State Sophomore of the Year by hitting on 18 of 25 passes for 243 yards and two TDs. He’s also who will be listed as the MVP for the game in the Cal-Hi Sports history archives. Raleek Brown ended with 61 yards on 11 carries, C.J. Williams caught five passes for 55 yards, and Leviticus Su’a rocked and rolled for 10 tackles (1.5 or loss).
Defense Does It For Serra,
Gardena School Wins 3rd Title
A late pick six from a freshman only a few plays removed from its star quarterback going down with an ankle injury was the biggest reason why Serra of Gardena defeated Liberty of Bakersfield, 21-16, in the CIF Division 1-A state championship game on Saturday at Saddleback College.
The Cavaliers, who were No. 20 in the Cal-Hi Sports state rankings, improved to 11-4 and won their third CIF state title (the other two were in 2009 and 2012). The CIF Central Section D1 champions from Kern County ended at 11-3 and will drop from No. 22 in next week’s final state rankings.
Having traversed through California, and even a sojourn to northern Nevada, Liberty didn’t mind traveling the 170 miles to south Orange County to face Serra for the state championship. Despite being road warriors, and playing six of the first seven away from home, head coach Bryan Nixon’s club was in the midst of an eight-game win streak.
Serra played a schedule that saw the team stay much closer to home, with San Diego being the furthest locale journeyed to. They made the short trip to Saddleback College for the matchup and the goal of securing their third title in as many tries.
Regardless how far each traveled during the fall, both were there to claim the big prize.
After both schools traded possessions to start the game, Liberty took its next possession and drove deep into Cavaliers’ territory, but Serra was able to stonewall the Patriots from the end zone. Liberty had to settle for a 28-yard field goal and an early 3-0 advantage.
Late in the first quarter, Serra engineered a drive that featured its effective passing game at the hand of quarterback Maalik Murphy. The Texas-commit utilized his stable of talented receivers. The Cavs then proceeded to score when Troy Crozier sliced around end for an 11-yard run and a 7-3 lead.
Liberty QB Carson Woods repeatedly tried to dial long distance but the tenacious pass coverage of Serra wouldn’t break. He then called his own number and, on an option play, knifed through the defense on his way to a 38-yard touchdown. The PAT was missed, but the Pats went to intermission ahead 9-7.
Serra took the second half kickoff and orchestrated a 79-yard drive that took more than five minutes off the clock. The Cavs faced a fourth-down and three midway through the drive. Murphy was able to turn the corner for a 15-yard gain to keep things moving. After leading the team to the doorstep of pay dirt, Murphy threw a spiral and connected with Kai Honda for a one-yard score. The score was now 14–9 as the schools entered the fourth quarter.
Liberty was unable to make any progress and punted to Serra at the start of the fourth quarter. The Cavs quickly returned possession but pinned the Pats at the one-yard line, courtesy of a remarkable punt by Honda. Two plays later, Woods threw a pick right into the hands of freshman Tre Harrison of Serra who ran 10 yards to the end zone to give his club a 21-9 lead at that point. It was the talented freshman’s third interception of the postseason and second in the late fourth quarter to help preserve a win.
Liberty, not entirely finished, was determined to stage some type of comeback. As precious time became a factor, Woods managed to put together an 86-yard drive in nine plays to put the Pats within striking distance again. Woods scored on a 13-yard run, his second touchdown of the day and the score was 21-16 with less than two minutes to play.
The attempted recovery of an onside kick failed and Serra was able to pounce on the ball and run out the clock for the triumph. It was the third state crown for head coach Scott Altenberg and his talented Cavaliers — the first at the Division 1 level. After the previous game against Long Beach Poly, Altenberg also joined the all-time state list of coaches with 200 career wins.
“That was the deal all year,” Altenberg said when asked about his team’s ability to overcome adversity. “We started with only 35 guys and it was injury after injury. We probably only had four days off for the last 16 months and it did take a village. We had our back-up quarterback in there at the end and even he was limping around.”
The statistical battle between the two schools was nearly equal in each category.
Serra lost quarterback Murphy midway through the second half with an apparent ankle injury. Before departing, he had passed for 174 yards and one score. Back Cincere Rhaney rushed for 89 yards. Jason Mitchell had eight and a half tackles while mate D’Angelo Davis notched eight tackles (1 1/2 for loss) and 1 1/2 sacks.
The Cal-Hi Sports MVP of the game was Honda. The Cavaliers’ season-long Swiss Army knife accounted for one touchdown, three PATs and punted six times for a 34.7 average.
Liberty was led by Jalen Hankins’ 105 yards rushing and Carson Woods’ 147 yards passing. Luke Wattenbarger had eight tackles to lead the defense.
“You saw how we finished and we still had a chance with the onside kick,” said Liberty head coach Bryan Nixon. “These kids have got to have short term memories. They competed their tails off week in, week out and they’ll always be known as (Central Section) champions.”
Wilcox 2nd Half Comeback Reversed
In Final Seconds’ Loss To Scripps Ranch
High school coaches usually don’t let other teams score in the final minutes of a state championship game to take the lead, but Scripps Ranch of San Diego head coach Marlon Gardinera did just that and the plan worked as his team scored with 27 seconds left and beat Wilcox of Santa Clara, 31-28, in the CIF D2-A state final played Saturday afternoon at Saddleback College.
Wilcox had come all the way back from a 21-0 halftime deficit to gain the lead on a 1-yard run by Luther Glenn with 2:17 remaining. But Gardinera wanted to preserve time on the clock for his junior quarterback, Jax Leatherwood, to do something special and he did.
Leatherwood started the final drive with an incomplete pass and an interception that was nullified by a defensive holding penalty. He later hit on passes of 14 yards to junior Dean Paley and 25 yards to Dylan Wenger. The pass to Wenger put the ball on the Wilcox 17-yard line with 44 seconds left. Then on a third-and-three from the 10, Leatherwood threaded the needle on a bubble screen to Paley, who got the space he needed to score the touchdown.
Wilcox still had three timeouts and 21 seconds to work with, but on its first play Scripps Ranch’s Lamont Wilkerson clinched the win with an interception.
“I knew that it was going to be defensive holding on that last pick and I was so glad they called it,” Leatherwood said. “I knew I’d do whatever it took at the end and I’m so proud of our guys to come together and make history.”
The history made by Scripps Ranch was to win its first-ever CIF state title. The Falcons also finished 13-1 and have a chance at moving into the final State TOP 50 state rankings. Wilcox ended 10-5 and lost in its second CIF state finals’ appearance. The Chargers won the CIF D3A state title in 2018 with a win against Kaiser of Fontana.
Gardinera also has gained recognition throughout the state for his leadership in helping the state allow football games to resume last spring as the Coronavirus was still not in a good place.
“If you would have told me then that we would be winning a state championship by this fall I would have laughed at you,” Gardinera said. “What this shows you is what a bunch of kids with all heart can do if they go to work week after week.”
Glenn led the way for the Chargers with 22 carries for 146 yards and two TDs rushing. He also caught three passes for 60 yards and one score.
“I am proud of the guys for responding the way they did in the second half,” said Wilcox head coach Paul Rosa. “It was pretty much the opposite of the first half. It would have been easy to give up the way it was going.”
Leatherwood threw three TD passes in that first half, all to senior Conor Lawlor. The third of those came on a 76-yard play with 59 seconds left in the quarter and came right after officials ruled that Glenn had not scored for Wilcox and instead had fumbled out of the end zone for a touchback. Replays clearly showed, however, that Glenn’s body had crossed into the end zone before the ball was loose and that it should have been a touchdown.
The final TD pass by Leatherwood gave him 52 for the season. That is one of the highest totals in CIF San Diego Section history. He finished 21 of 37 for 337 yards. Lawlor was equally spectacular as he had seven catches for 199 yards and three TDs.