There was clearly more sweat and grind involved compared to a year ago, but the bottom line told the same story: Mater Dei, state football champions once more.

The Monarchs capitalized on mistakes and survived a late rally to beat De La Salle of Concord, 35-21, in the CIF Open Division Bowl championship Dec. 8 at Cerritos College. Though not as dominant as its 52-21 pasting of the Spartans a year ago, it will likely earn Mater Dei a repeat national championship based on Maxpreps’ “Xcellent 25” and Freeman Computer Rankings.

The Monarchs (13-2) entered the game atop both national polls, with De La Salle (12-1) ranked eighth and fifth, respectively. Seven of Mater Dei’s 13 wins came against teams ranked in the national top 25 at some point during the year, including St. John Bosco whom Mater Dei defeated in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 championship game.

For Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson, it was the 300th win of his 30-year career at Mater Dei. Over the past three years alone, the Monarchs are 41-3, with one of the losses by forfeit to Bishop Amat earlier this year, and the other two to St. John Bosco (in 2017 and 2018).

Against De La Salle, Mater Dei jumped to a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter with a bad snap from center setting up the first score, a  27-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Young to Cameron Gardner. A fumble put the kibosh on a De La Salle drive and sparked a 74-yard Monarch march, capped by Young’s 37-yard TD pass to Bru McCoy to open the second quarter.

But the Spartans struck back quickly on a TD pass from sophomore QB Dorian Hale, cutting the lead to 14-7 at the half. The Monarchs, however, drove 67 yards to open the third quarter to take a 21-7 lead on Shakobe Harper’s 15-yard touchdown run.

And when another Spartan fumble led to Harper’s 1-yard TD with less than five minutes left in the third quarter, Mater Dei seemed poised to match its blowout win last year, in which De La Salle fumbled eight times.

Except that Hale led the Spartans back with a long scoring pass, followed by a short drive after recovering a blocked punt, making the score 28-21 with 6:10 left.

Then it was McCoy to the rescue, with a 25-yard, one-handed catch to pick up a key first down, and Harper’s 15-yard TD run sealed the win.  

Young (who transferred from Cathedral earlier this year) finished 18 of 25 for 296 yards; McCoy caught six for 115 yards, and Harper ran for 122 yards and three TDs. Collectively, Mater Dei gained more than 400 yards against a highly-rated De La Salle defense.

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

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