A stifling defense and dominant ball-control offense were the keys for Mater Dei’s Monarchs, who defeated St. John Bosco 17-13 on Nov. 23 for their second straight CIF-Southern Section Division 1 football title.

The victory at Cerritos College earned the Monarchs a trip to the Open Division state championship game on Dec. 8 in Sacramento, where they will seek their second straight state title against the winner of the Northern California championship.

In their victory over St. John Bosco, Mater Dei’s offense controlled the ball nearly twice as long as the Braves. The defense, meanwhile, held star junior quarterback DJ Ulagalelei to 105 yards passing (7 of 19) and St. John Bosco to just 202 yards total (The Braves had averaged 470 per game).

Ulagalelei’s best moment came early, leading the Braves downfield to a 7-0 lead on a 19-yard touchdown pass to Jude Wolfe with less than four minutes gone. But St. John Bosco only had the ball for 93 more seconds in the first half, as Mater Dei — after missing opportunities throughout the first half — tied the score on Shakobe Harper’s 2-yard run with 1:53 remaining.

Mater Dei took a 14-7 lead on Bryce Young’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Bru McCoy late in the third quarter and seemed ready to lengthen the advantage early in the fourth. The Braves’ Chris Steele, however, blocked a short field goal try, and Trent McDuffie picked up the loose ball and raced 75 yards for a touchdown.

The score stayed 14-13, however, when the Braves’ extra point attempt was missed, and Nick Lopez’ 42-yard field goal with 4:42 remaining gave the Monarchs a 17-13 lead that they held until the end.

This was the third straight year that the Braves and Monarchs reached the D-1 title game. St. John Bosco won in 2016 and Mater Dei in 2017, and both times the winner also won the State Open Division title.

The Braves entered the game undefeated, having beaten Mater Dei Oct. 12 to clinch the Trinity League title, and earn the No. 1 national ranking on Maxpreps’ “Xcellent 25” weekly poll. Mater Dei, last year’s national champ and ranked third in the U.S. entering the title game, had lost only one other game — their 42-14 win over Bishop Amat was forfeited for using an ineligible player.

The Braves were making their sixth straight appearance in a CIF-SS title game, while the Monarchs were playing in a title game for the fifth time in the past seven years.

Mike Nelson is the former editor of The Tidings (predecessor of Angelus News).

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