After the long, challenging road of Southern California competition, it all comes down to this: The nation's No. 1 team Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
battles No. 4 Servite (Anaheim)
in Friday's Southern Section Division I championship and a spot in the state's Open Division title game.
The two Trinity League rivals already gave fans one of the most entertaining games of the season on Oct. 23. Mater Dei outlasted Servite 46-37 behind sophomore quarterback Elijah Brown
(17 of 23, 247 yards), senior running backs Raleek Brown
(163 yards rushing) and Quincy Craig
(four TD runs), and wide receiver C.J. Williams
(eight catches, 135 yards).
Servite (10-2) played toe-to-toe with the four-time national champions, matching haymakers with the likes of Arizona-bound quarterback Noah Fifita
(26 of 41, 306 yards), Oregon-bound receiver Tetairoa McMillan
(15 catches, 163 yards, two touchdowns) and running back Houston Thomas
Besides the challenge of upstart Servite, Mater Dei carries the
weight of an alleged hazing incident that was first reported Tuesday by
the Orange County Register
and quickly made national news.
The first game with Servite eventially came down to a couple big defensive plays from Mater Dei's premier edge rusher David Bailey
(three sacks) and a late interception by sophomore cornerback Zabien Brown
. It was the only turnover of a superbly played game.
Throughout the season, both teams battled another nationally ranked squad, St. John Bosco (Bellflower). Mater Dei scored
three unanswered touchdowns
in the second half to defeated the Braves, 42-21, on Oct. 1, while Servite split two games with Bosco, losing the week after the Mater Dei defeat, 24-10, before turning around that score last week, with a 40-21 semifinal stunner, scoring the game's final 20 points behind Fifita, who rushed for 139 yards and three scores.
Mater Dei (10-0) might have had even a tougher game to get to the finals, edging another nationally ranked squad Centennial (Corona), 21-16 behind 164 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Oklahoma-bound Raleek Brown and two defensive stands inside the Huskies 10-yard line.
As the nation's No. 1 ranked team, which has battled for national crowns consistently since 2015, the weight of expectation is always on the Monarchs. The hazing allegations could add more weight.
They've fought off numerous challenges all season, including two canceled games due to opponents' COVID-19 concerns, including a season-opener scheduled against Centennial.
Instead, the Monarchs opened on the road in Texas and scored a dominating 45-3 win over perennial state and national power Duncanville (10-1), which hasn't lost since and is the state's 6A-D1 third round. Mater Dei lost its top recruit, cornerback Domani Jackson for the season with a knee injury in the opener, but it hasn't slowed much, having outscored opponents, 477-138.
A senior dominated Servite team appears resilient and determined in its own right. Most of the team has played together since youth football days.
"I think (we) prove if you go with your boys, if you go with your friend, you can turn around a program," Fifita told Bally Sports.
Running back Thomas, who is the son of Servite coach Troy Thomas, told the Los Angeles Times: "None of us want this to end. We talk about it constantly. One more week being together."