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Mater Dei finds redemption, defeats rival St. John Bosco for Trinity League title

Mater Dei finds redemption, defeats rival St. John Bosco for Trinity League title

SANTA ANA — Mater Dei High didn’t close the coronavirus-delayed and shortened football season Saturday, April 17 with a CIF Southern Section or state championship. But the Monarchs secured the next-best thing in their book.

Red redemption.

Freshman quarterback Elijah Brown again played beyond his years, tossing four touchdowns, and Mater Dei forced three turnovers to beat rival St. John Bosco 34-17 for the Trinity League title at Santa Ana Stadium.

Last season, St. John Bosco defeated Mater Dei 39-34 for the CIF-SS Division 1 championship, the teams’ fourth consecutive meeting in a section final. The Braves went on to capture state and national titles in the fall of 2019 and drove the Monarchs to seek “red redemption” this spring.

Despite the 2020 fall season being delayed seven months and the playoffs being canceled due to the pandemic, both teams approached Saturday as it was a CIF championship game.

“Tonight, they can feel redeemed,” Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said. “We had that theme (red redemption) expecting a regular season and I never left that theme because I had 21 kids (who were seniors). … They can go out and say in my senior year, ‘We beat one of the top teams’ and this is a big win for us. There’s a lot of talent on this football team, and that’s what makes it fun.”

Brown completed 14 of 23 passes for 203 yards and led an offense that didn’t commit a turnover.

“There was a tremendous amount of pressure on that young man, not placed by us,” Rollinson said of Brown. “I thought (offensive coordinator Dave) Money called a great game with a young quarterback. … But we know we can race this car a lot harder now that that kid has got five games under his belt.”

Mater Dei’s defense also performed well, holding a Braves’ offense averaging more than 50 points a game to 17.

The Braves outgained Mater Dei 412-345 but the Monarchs’ defense forced three turnovers. Monarchs defensive coordinator Eric Johnson noted that the Braves entered the games without an interception and his unit recorded two and forced a key fumble.

The three turnovers came courtesy of safety Shoes Brinkley, cornerback Domani Jackson and nickel back Quincy Craig.

“That was the key — the force fumble and then we got two picks,” Johnson said. “The defensive backs played really well.”

Mater Dei (5-0, 5-0) led 24-14 at halftime before the game turned defensive in the second half. The Monarchs turned an interception by USC-committed Jackson late in the fourth quarter into a 34-17 lead on a 42-yard field goal by Chase Meyer with 3:31 left.

St. John Bosco struggled with penalties, finishing with 13 for 150 yards. Mater Dei was flagged seven times for 68 yards.

“I thought the game came down to some penalties. It came down to some poor execution on our part,” Braves coach Jason Negro said. “When you play in a championship game like this, you can not have the little mistakes. You can’t miss field goals. You can’t turn the ball over three times. … We have a lot of wok to do to get ready for the fall.”

The Monarchs opened a 7-0 lead by driving 80 yards on its first possession for a spectacular, 18-yard touchdown catch by CJ Williams. The junior made a one-handed grab just inside the end zone on a well-placed pass from Brown.

St. John Bosco (5-1, 4-1) answered with two consecutive scores to take a 14-7 lead after the opening quarter.

Running back Jabari Bates broke a 66-yard touchdown run and tight end Matayo Uiagalelei added a 26-yard touchdown reception.

Both plays resembled impressive strikes the Braves used to beat Servite this season. Bates showed his burst through the secondary while the 6-foot-5, 263-pound Uiagalelei outjumped a smaller defender to come down with a high pass into the end zone by Pierce Clarkson.

Uiagalelei’s catch on third-and-9 came on the final play of the first quarter.

But Williams and Brown were only getting warmed up in the first half. On consecutive passes, Brown lofted a 26-yard TD pass to Williams, who made an over-the-shoulder reception in the end zone, and connected with Kyron Ware-Hudson for a 64-yard touchdown. The USC-bound Ware-Hudson found himself wide open in the secondary and raced to the end zone to give Mater Dei a 21-14 lead with 9:21 left in the second quarter.

The Braves almost responded on their next possession but missed a 37-yard field goal attempt wide left. The miss loomed significant as the Monarchs drove for a 38-yard field goal by Meyer, whose boot extended the Monarchs’ lead to 24-14.

Brinkley sealed the score at intermission with a jumping interception in the end zone on the final play.

St. John Bosco got its kicking game back on track on its first possession of the second half, driving for a 37-yard field goal by Andre Meono, who trimmed Mater Dei’s lead to 24-17.

Mater Dei responded with an 80-yard scoring drive capped by 12-yard touchdown strike from Brown to senior wide receiver Josiah Zamora on a back-shoulder route. The connection for a 31-17 lead came after Williams drew a pass interference penalty on fourth-and-2 from the Braves’ 24.

St. John Bosco was called for three pass interference penalties on the drive and entered the final period with 10 penalties for 115 yards.

The Braves appeared to be headed for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter but Craig forced a key fumble on a run from the Mater Dei 10 and defensive lineman Jacob Kongaika dove on the ball in the end zone. The play helped the Monarchs maintain a two-touchdown lead at 31-17.

“That was a very impact play,” Craig said. “Our defense had a different mindset coming into this game. We had bad blood from last year.”

Freshman linebacker Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa had two sacks and junior linebacker Sione Hala added 10 total tackles to lead the Braves’ defense.

And while only the league title was at stake on Saturday, Mater Dei also claimed bragging rights in the rivalry.

“It just solidifies us as the best,” senior outside linebacker Raesjon Davies said. “We’ll see what happens next year. I know my Monarchs are going to get it done again.”

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