De La Salle High School of Concord, founded in 1965 by the Christian Brothers of St. John Baptist de La Salle in the Diocese of Oakland, has a rich football tradition that includes appearances in every State Championship Bowl Tournament since the California Interscholastic Federation began conducting the event in 2006.
Yet successful as they are (with seven wins in 11 appearances), the Spartans are just 1-2 in finals matchups against Catholic schools from the CIF-Southern Section. Both of their losses, in fact, have come at the hands of St. John Bosco High School of Bellflower, which — coached by Jason Negro — won the Open Division championship in 2013, 20-14, and repeated the victory in 2016, 56-33.
This month, De La Salle will make its 12th straight Bowl Game appearance, this time in the Open Division final against the Mater Dei Monarchs of Santa Ana, a team ranked tops in the U.S. from the start of the 2017 season by Maxpreps’ “Xcellent 25” weekly survey. The Monarchs are 13-0 while the Spartans are 11-1, having lost only to Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas, a team Mater Dei beat 35-21 on Sept. 1.
As one of the state’s leading football programs for several decades since Bruce Rollinson took the helm as head coach, Mater Dei has, somewhat curiously, never played in a state title game, in part owing to the fact that the tournament didn’t start until 2006.
This year, however, the Monarchs’ sheer dominance of virtually every opponent makes them the favorite to capture their first state title, to go with their nine CIF-SS championships. The most recent occurred Dec. 2 when Mater Dei toppled defending state titlist St. John Bosco, 49-24.
Local state champs
And it is Bosco that is tied for the most state championships (two) won by Catholic high schools from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles or the Diocese of Orange. That fact reflects the powerful impact, if not dominance, that Catholic institutions from throughout California have had in high school football.
In fact, St. Bonaventure High School of Ventura was the first school from anywhere in California to earn consecutive state championships, both times beating Catholic schools from up north at Home Depot Center (now StubHub Center) in Carson, site of the event through 2014.
Coached by Todd Thieren, the Seraphs won the Division III crown in 2007, 35-21, over Central Catholic of Modesto (Diocese of Stockton), then repeated their championship in 2008 over Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa, 28-6. (Central Catholic later won four straight state titles in various divisions, 2012-15.)
The third local Catholic school to win two state football championships is Junipero Serra of Gardena, both times coached by Scott Altenberg. In 2009, the Cavaliers defeated Marin Catholic of San Francisco, 24-20, for the Division III title, and then in 2012 overwhelmed Oakdale of Central California, 42-15, to win Division II.; that was two years after Serra lost to Folsom, 48-20, in the Division II final.
Four other local Catholic schools have won state championships in recent years:
> In 2009, Servite of Anaheim, coached by Troy Thomas, edged Rocklin of Sacramento, 22-20, to win Division II. A year later, the Friars moved into the Open Division, where they were beaten in the final by De La Salle, 48-8.
> In 2011, Santa Margarita, coached by Harry Welch (one of the most successful coaches in CIF history at several schools), outscored Bellarmine Prep of San Jose, 42-37, to win the Division I championship.
> In 2013, Chaminade Prep of West Hills, coached by Ed Croson, overwhelmed Enterprise of Redding, 41-9, for the Division II title.
> And in 2016, Paraclete of Lancaster, coached by Dean Herrington, downed Menlo-Atherton (near Palo Alto), 39-21, to capture the Division 3-AA championship. Heading into this past weekend, the Spirits were aiming at a repeat title in 2017. But on Dec. 9 against L.A. City power Narbonne of Harbor City in the Division 1-A SoCal Regional Finals, they lost 14 to 56.
Last year, St. Anthony of Long Beach came close to winning the Division 4-A state title, falling to Pleasant Valley of Chico, 50-49 in overtime.
In all, there were nine California Catholic schools competing in the 13 division state championship games last year — five of them winning, just as five Catholic schools won titles in 2015. Given the nature of the Open Division final Dec. 16, at least one more Catholic school — either Mater Dei or De La Salle — will be added to that illustrious list.
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