The crowd of 15,955 who poured into the Rose Bowl on Friday night, some enduring an epic traffic jam trying to find a parking spot, were treated to exactly what they expected: a hard-hitting , the Everything-Go Southern Section Division 1 Championship football game between No. 1 Santa Ana Mater Dei and No. 2 Bellflower St. John Bosco.
It was a thriller dictated by a single play. Clinging to a 24–22 lead with 3:08 remaining, St. John Bosco needed to prevent Mater Dei from converting a two-point conversion after Jordan Davison scored on a one-yard run. The Monarchs decided to pass the ball to Davison again. This time, the 6-foot-2 and 262-pound Vertonio Weatherton turned out to be a road block, pulling Davison to the turf short of the end zone.
Weatherton told a teammate in the first half, “That’s all we’ve worked for since we started playing.”
St. John Bosco (13-1) handed Mater Dei (13-1) its first loss since the 2019 section championship game, ending the Monarchs’ 29-game winning streak. It was the fourth championship for St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro and proved to be the case for senior quarterback Pierce Clarkson, who found his first win with a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jahleel McClain, a 20-yard pass to Matteo Uygalelli and a 72-yard pass. But threw Deandre Moore. over the kings.
“This is where your legacy is going to be built,” Clarkson said of one of her coaches’ message after he was injured in the first half and came back. “And I knew it was one of those moments where it was going to define me.”
It was the first high school loss for Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown, who was entering the game at 29–0. It was the final game for Mater Dei’s 73-year-old head coach Bruce Rollinson, who announced two weeks earlier that he would be retiring. According to the CalHiSports.com record book, he finishes with eight section titles and a 339–86–2 record in 34 years as head coach.
Rollinson, who was walking off the field for the last time, was asked why he was retiring.
“It was time, it was time,” he said.
Clarkson completed 14 of 27 passes for 264 yards. Brown was 21-of-30 passing for 291 yards and two touchdowns.
Like the first meeting between the two powerhouses on October 7, Mater Dei won 17–7, again displaying their best performance in the first half. The half ended in a 7–7 tie.
One big difference was that St. John’s was able to put pressure on Bosco Brown, sacking him twice in the first half and stuffing the Monarchs twice in fourth-down situations.
Mater Dei was able to take a 7–0 lead in the first quarter on Brown’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Harris.
Clarkson countered in the second quarter with a 45-yard touchdown pass to McClain.
The problem for both offenses was not being able to run the ball, thus making it difficult for both quarterbacks to get enough time to find receivers. Brown was 12-of-14 passing for 136 yards in the first half but never looked comfortable. Clarkson briefly left the game after injuring his right knee after releasing a pass. Unlike the previous game against Mater Dei, he was able to return when he sat out in the second half due to concussion protocols.
The second half belonged to the Braves. They took a 24-13 lead. St. John Bosco took its first lead on the opening drive of the third quarter. Clarkson connected with Uyagaleli for a 20-yard touchdown pass and a 14–7 lead.
Moments earlier, McClain was diving in for a 32-yard reception. This is the kind of drama that St. John Bosco needed to step up in defense of Mater Dei.
Mater Dei mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter. There was a 25-yard field goal, then a botched punt snap by St. John Bosco. This set the stage for the Emperors to have a chance to tie the score. But all night long, St. John Bosco’s defensive line stood up in clutch situations. Four times the Braves stopped the Monarchs on fourth down.
“This 2023 class, we want to do something special,” Clarkson said. “We wanted to come out with a win, because we haven’t been able to do that in the last few years. It was really down to our brothers, a year ahead of who they were last year.
For those wondering how Mater Dei or St. John Bosco got to this point of winning each Division 1 title since 2016, it is said to be the accumulation of the best talent in Southern California.
Just look at where some of his former players have ended up. From Mater Dei, Amon-Ra St. Brown (Detroit Lions), JT Daniels (West Virginia), David Bailey (Stanford), Ralick Brown (USC), Jaylyn Davis (UCLA) and Bryce Young (Alabama).
From St. John Bosco, are Trent McDuffie (Kansas City Chiefs), Wyatt Davis (Arizona Cardinals), DJ Uigallei (Clemson), Stephen Blaylock (UCLA), JonJon Vaughan (UCLA) and Court Williams (Ohio State).
It goes on and on. They have become an all-star team, with second-stringers better than some varsity starters who carry extraordinary depth that has eluded them from most Southern California programs.
This season it was particularly clear that no one was going to stop rivals Mater Dei and St John Bosco from playing in a rematch of their Trinity League game. Playoff semifinal scores of 52–0 and 41–6 were proof of how far they’ve pulled.
St. John Bosco will play in the CIF State Championship Open Division championship game in two weeks at Saddleback College against San Mateo Serra, who beat San Jose Archbishop Mitty 41-14.