Santa Ana Mater Dei holds the distinguished position of being recognized as the top-ranking high school football team in California and the entire nation, as acknowledged by experts in the field of high school football. However, the fearlessness displayed by Corona Centennial’s head coach, Matt Logan, in electing to compete against the Monarchs is not without reason. His motivation lies in gauging his team’s capabilities, and this intent was realized during the inaugural game of the season, played on a Friday night. This matchup showcased that the Huskies of Centennial possess the mettle to stand strong alongside the best teams in the sport.
In the aftermath of the game, Coach Logan imparted his assessment to his team, emphasizing their competitive standing: “We’re right there.” This assertion was substantiated as Mater Dei ultimately secured a hard-fought 28-14 victory against Centennial, with the game unfolding before a capacity crowd at the Centennial venue.
The encounter served as a valuable lesson in resilience for Centennial, illustrating their capacity to weather significant challenges while maintaining their competitiveness. This was underscored by their ability to withstand eight sacks and respond tenaciously against the Monarchs. Coach Logan’s enthusiasm was palpable, particularly stemming from the realization that his team could persevere in the face of adversity. Mater Dei’s formidable defensive unit was in the spotlight throughout the game, executing a consistent blitz strategy aimed at unsettling Centennial’s newly appointed quarterback, Husan Longstreet.
Despite the odds, Centennial managed to narrow the score to 21-14 with a mere 4 minutes and 30 seconds remaining on the clock. This impressive feat was accomplished through cornerback Tayten Beyer’s interception of an Elijah Brown pass, subsequently returning the ball for a 55-yard touchdown. This pivotal moment marked the climax for the Huskies, who exhibited remarkable resurgence in the second half after initially trailing 14-0.
Mater Dei, however, demonstrated their experience and grit, preventing the Huskies from orchestrating a complete comeback. The Monarchs strategically employed ball-control tactics, prominently featuring Jordon Davison’s skillful rushing, as he amassed 117 yards across 18 carries. The victory was sealed with a six-yard rushing touchdown by Nate Frazier, effectively sealing Mater Dei’s triumph with a score of 28-14 and a mere 2 minutes and 22 seconds left on the clock.
The initial half of the game introduced an unexpected twist in the form of a rare underwhelming passing performance from Elijah Brown, who boasts a four-year history as a starting quarterback. A significant proportion of his early passes, six out of seven, fell incomplete. Notably, Brown’s accuracy has been a hallmark of his performance. Nevertheless, he rebounded impressively, executing a critical fourth-down maneuver resulting in a 23-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Brown in the second quarter, granting Mater Dei a 7-0 lead. A further six-yard touchdown run by Davison extended their lead to 14-0 before halftime. By the game’s conclusion, Brown had completed 17 of 29 passes for a cumulative 191 yards.
Mater Dei persisted with their aggressive defensive approach, consistently employing blitzing tactics after Centennial struggled to establish a running game. This approach posed significant challenges for Longstreet, resulting in a demanding first half for the quarterback. Longstreet’s notable plays emerged from scrambling maneuvers necessitated by Mater Dei’s interior pressure, forcing him to evade the pocket. Mater Dei’s defensive unit recorded four sacks during the first half, with junior linebacker Abduall Sanders Jr. contributing two. Jeilani Davis emerged as the top tackler for Mater Dei, amassing a team-leading total of 10 tackles.
Coach Logan’s aspiration of facilitating Cornell Hatcher’s successful running game materialized in the second half, culminating in a commendable achievement of 98 yards and a touchdown.
Longstreet, reflecting on his performance, remarked, “I have to see things faster.”
First-year coach Frank McManus of Mater Dei expressed his elation regarding his team’s defensive prowess. While acknowledging a certain degree of fatigue in the second half, McManus outlined plans for addressing this through enhanced conditioning.
The game proved to be an invaluable source of insights for both teams, offering significant learning opportunities in this early clash between Southern Section Division 1 contenders.
Coach Logan summarized, “We know where we’re at and we know what we can be.”
In other games, Tim Larkins orchestrated two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, propelling Hart to a 14-7 victory over Quartz Hill. This marked the return of coach Rick Herrington, who had undergone a heart transplant during the offseason.
Junior running back Anthony League from Los Alamitos, previously a backup, exhibited an impressive performance by accumulating 314 rushing yards and scoring six touchdowns in a commanding 62-25 victory over Western.
Under the leadership of first-year coach Mike Moschetti, St. Paul secured a 24-22 win over Newport Harbor, setting the stage for a classic Catholic school rivalry game against Bishop Amat in the following week.
The transition of two quarterbacks between schools showcased promising debuts. Wyatt Becker, who transferred from Sherman Oaks Notre Dame to Sierra Canyon, completed 14 of 16 passes for 189 yards, securing a 9-7 win over JSerra. Steele Pizzella, who moved from Simi Valley to Notre Dame, demonstrated his prowess by completing 18 of 26 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns in a resounding 42-0 victory over Peninsula.
Caleb Sanchez’s four-year wait to start as quarterback for St. John Bosco culminated in an impressive performance, completing 21 of 25 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns, leading to a decisive 42-22 victory over Henderson (Nev.) Liberty.
Orange Lutheran made a strong statement, positioning themselves as formidable contenders to challenge St. John Bosco and Mater Dei in the Trinity League. This assertion was solidified through a resounding 47-19 victory over Gardena Serra. Quarterback TJ Lateef showcased his skills, passing for 193 yards and securing a touchdown, in addition to contributing a rushing touchdown.
In sum, this early-season clash between Santa Ana Mater Dei and Corona Centennial offered a platform for both teams to gather valuable insights, further reinforcing their competitive spirits and aspirations for excellence in high school football.