It wasn't the shootout everyone expected but the nation's No. 1 high school football team survived Friday night. Behind two touchdown runs from Raleek Brown
and a stellar defensive effort, top-ranked Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
went on the road to defeat No. 11 Centennial (Corona)
21-16 in a Southern Section Division I semifinal game.
Brown, an Oklahoma commit, scored on runs of 15 and 13 yards. The Monarchs (10-0) also received a stingy performance from their underappreciated defense to move into next week's final against No. 7 Servite (Anaheim)
, which pulled off a mild upset of St. John Bosco (Bellflower)
in the other semifinal.
Averaging less than nine carries per game in Mater Dei's mostly pass-happy attack, Brown carried the ball 29 times for 164 yards as the Monarchs controlled the clock and relied on a defense that had two significant goal-line stands. Preseason All-American David Bailey
, an edge rusher, was particularly dominant with two sacks and a forced fumble that ended one deep Centennial drive.
The defensive nature of the game was displayed from the start as it took four plays from inside the 10 before Mater Dei's short-yardage specialist Quincy Craig
scored on a 1-yard run, giving the Monarchs a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Centennial's quick-strike responded immediately, capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass from Carson Conklin
to Nathan Jimenez
, tying the game at 7-7.
A bad punt snap out of the end zone gave the Huskies a 9-7 lead in the second quarter before Brown scored his first touchdown on a 15-yard run to put the Monarchs back in front 14-9.
Brown hurdled a Centennial safety about the 5-yard-line before cruising into the end zone and spinning the football, which cost the Monarchs an immediate 15-yard excessive celebration penalty.
Centennial looked like it was going in for a go-ahead score when Craig returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown. The score was nullified with a holding penalty, putting the ball inside the 10. But a fourth-down pass from Izzy Carter
was broken up beautifully by Cameron Sidney
, keeping the Monarchs up 14-9 at halftime.
A long pass from Elijah Brown
to Samari Staten
set up Brown's second touchdown, a 13-yarder that seemed to give Mater Dei a comfortable cushion, 21-9. But it didn't last long.
Centennial drove right down field thanks to a long pass from Conklin to Landen Woodson
, setting up a 5-yard touchdown run by Jayson Cortes
, making it 21-16 just before the end of the third quarter.
Both teams had chances from there but the Monarchs had just enough to advance.
Centennial (58) and Mater Dei (50.1) both entered the contest averaging better than 50 points per outing.
The last time the No. 1-ranked Monarchs played at Centennial was in 2010. Before Friday, Mater Dei and Corona Centennial had met 10 times since 2007, splitting those meetings with the Monarchs winning the last two by an average margin of 32 points. It was much different on Friday.
The teams were also supposed to open the season against each other in August but a positive COVID test and protocols led to the game being called off.
Mater Dei has defeated both Servite (46-37) and St. John Bosco (42-21) during Trinity League play this season.