Huntley’s 5 takeaways from Mater Dei’s win over St. John Bosco in the CIF-SS Division 1 final – Orange County Register

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Michael Huntley covered Mater Dei vs. St. John Bosco in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship game Friday night at the Coliseum, which produced a 35-7 win by the Monarchs.

Here is Huntley’s analysis of what happened in the battle between two of the top teams in the nation:

1. Mater Dei’s defensive line was dominant

The interior defensive line trio of Semi Taulanga, Zeus Venegas and Tomu Topui were the most dominant unit of the game. They were able to absorb double teams which opened up lanes for blitzers like Daryus Dixson and Jeilani Davis.

“They played outstanding,” Mater Dei coach Frank McManus said of the defensive line. “Everyone has to do their job for the defense to function. The defensive line played great but so did the linebackers and defensive backs.”

Mater Dei coach Frank McManus, center, accepts the CIF-SS Division 1 championship plaque at the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Friday, November 24, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)
Mater Dei coach Frank McManus, center, accepts the CIF-SS Division 1 championship plaque at the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Friday, November 24, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei only had two sacks Friday, but the pressure the defensive line put on St. John Bosco quarterback Caleb Sanchez forced errant throws and turnovers.

There was a key sack right before halftime that perfectly encapsulated Mater Dei’s defensive effort. Taulanga beat the offensive lineman and ran over the running back which allowed Venegas and Shaun Scott to get the sack.

2. Elijah Brown is the best quarterback in the Southern Section

Bosco’s Sanchez is the likely Trinity League MVP for the regular season, but Elijah Brown of Mater Dei was the superior quarterback Friday.

The numbers do not jump off the page for Brown. He completed just 50 percent of his passes for 109 yards with two touchdowns, but he made the big plays when it mattered the most.

Brown is 41-2 as a starter at Mater Dei and is one of the most poised high school quarterbacks in recent history. His two losses were at the hands of St. John Bosco, but Brown won the most important game of the rivalry in his final one.

“It feels amazing, like a cherry on top of my time here at Mater Dei,” Brown said.

In the third quarter, Brown made one of the best throws of his career, a 44-yard touchdown pass to Kayden Dixon-Wyatt to give the Monarchs a 21-0 lead.

Mater Dei wide receiver Kayden Dixon-Wyatt, right, makes a touchdown catch in front of St. John Bosco cornerback Frankie Edwards III in the CIF-SS Division 1 championship football game the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Friday, November 24, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)
Mater Dei wide receiver Kayden Dixon-Wyatt, right, makes a touchdown catch in front of St. John Bosco cornerback Frankie Edwards III in the CIF-SS Division 1 championship football game the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Friday, November 24, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

“That was definitely one of the best throws of my career,” Brown said. “Especially in a moment like this, letting it go and letting him go get it. He’s a phenomenal player and he made a phenomenal catch.”

3. Mater Dei’s offensive line had an excellent second half

Early in the game, both defensive lines were taking charge of the game. Mater Dei’s offensive line, coached by former USC and NFL player Khaled Holmes, made adjustments at halftime that were key to the Monarchs’ win.

Mater Dei had just 63 yards of offense in the first half and Brown was under pressure consistently. In the second half, Brown was untouched and able to move the ball down the field.

Mater Dei's Nicolas Moriarty, on ground, celebrates his touchdown against St. John Bosco with tight end Mark Bowman in the CIF-SS Division 1 championship football game the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Friday, November 24, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)
Mater Dei’s Nicolas Moriarty, on ground, celebrates his touchdown against St. John Bosco with tight end Mark Bowman in the CIF-SS Division 1 championship football game the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Friday, November 24, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

“Our offensive line coaches did a great job making adjustments at halftime,” McManus said. “They made the corrections they needed and you saw the results of that.”

“We knew our offensive line could do it and we just needed to encourage them,” Brown said.

The marquee names on the offensive line are the tackles: Auburn commit DeAndre Carter and Texas commit Brandon Baker. Senior center Christian Fallani improved greatly in the second half and guards Sione Tohi and Jeremiah Ponce picked up blitzes well.

“We just came out with more urgency in the second half and locked it in,” Baker said.

4. Special teams matter

One of the biggest changes on the Mater Dei coaching staff this season was hiring former JSerra head coach Scott McKnight, who has a reputation for being a special teams guru.

One of the biggest plays in the game came in the third quarter. St. John Bosco had just scored and gotten a subsequent stop on defense with momentum briefly on its side. The Braves punt returner muffed the punt and long snapper Rylan Vagana recovered the fumble to give the Monarchs excellent field position.

Vagana is the No. 1 rated long snapper in the nation according to long snapping coach Chris Rubio. The fumble recovery set up a touchdown to put the lead back at 21.

McKnight’s kickoff team was also excellent, allowing just 18 yards per kick return.

5. It’s hard to beat an excellent team twice

When St. John Bosco beat Mater Dei 28-0 earlier this season, the Braves knew that they wouldn’t be easy to replicate that performance a second time.

“That’s a good football team,” St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro told the Press-Telegram. “We knew that the first time and to beat those guys twice in a year is monumental and obviously, like we did to them last year, it’s really challenging.”

The coaching and talent at these top schools is so advanced that it’s incredibly difficult to beat one of them twice in a season.

Mater Dei’s players had revenge on their minds from the first game.

The Mater Dei team pose for a photo with their CIF-SS Division 1 championship plaque at the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Friday, November 24, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)
The Mater Dei team pose for a photo with their CIF-SS Division 1 championship plaque at the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Friday, November 24, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

“The amount of doubt and hate we were getting for losing that game, you can’t describe the feeling we have right now,” Mater Dei cornerback Zabien Brown said. “We kept our heads down, fused together as a team and dug deep.”

“We felt that first game was kind of a fluke,” Baker said. “Circumstances weren’t the best in that game and it feels really good to get this win back.”

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