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St. John Bosco wins title over Mater Dei with defense, offensive line

St. John Bosco wins title over Mater Dei with defense, offensive line

St. John Bosco senior quarterback Pierce Clarkson persevered through injury to finish with 264 yards and three touchdowns, the defense made vital stands, and the Braves atoned for a costly special teams flub to win the CIF-SS Div. 1 Championship and end the 29-game win streak of No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif).

With a 24-22 victory on Friday, No. 4 St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) reminded the nation that it might just be the best team in the country.

The Braves, now in position to compete for the California Open Division championship against Serra (San Mateo, Calif.) in two weeks, ended the career of longtime Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson, whose final season of his 34 years at the helm of the Monarchs consisted of one game fewer than he had planned.

In games between evenly matched rivals playing for the highest of stakes, victory is often decided by the team that best takes advantage of the other’s miscues and mistakes. On Friday night, both teams had a major special teams gaffe, both of which were instrumental pieces leading to Bosco’s final defensive stand.

Early in the second half, the Monarchs missed the PAT following a long catch-and-run score over the middle by Marcus Brown. They failed to tie the score at 14, and though it was just one point with 20 minutes left to play, it would force Mater Dei into a two-point conversion with the game on the line.

That was so because Clarkson continued to drive the ball downfield quickly. He hit DeAndre Moore on a short pass, and Moore got a block and scored a 72-yard touchdown.

Mater Dei was in the most perilous position it has faced since the second game of the season against Bishop Gorman (Nev.). Like that game against the Gaels back in August, though, Mater Dei drove down the field. Elijah Brown and Jordan Onovughe connected for a ridiculous catch on third-and-17, getting a chance for a touchdown.

The Braves held strong in the red zone, forcing a fourth down. The Monarchs elected to get the field goal and rely on its defense to get one more stop.

Mater Dei’s unit did just that, breaking up an on-the-money throw from Clarkson to force the punt. The Braves set up their formation with just over 3:30 to play.

Opportunities and miscues. The Monarchs got their chance when the snap sailed over the punter’s head. It was a freebie special teams touchdown, but it was called back near the spot of recovery as the referees ruled an illegal forward pass when a Monarch ahead of the ball carrier reached for the ball and appeared to have simultaneous possession.

This forced Mater Dei to send its offense back out and use some time off the clock. Every second counted in this quick drive, in which Onovughe made an excellent catch and running back Jordon Davison pushed his way into the end zone from the one-yard line.

They lined up for a two-point conversion and ran a similar play featuring Davison as the ball carrier.

Bosco needed one more defensive stand. They got it. They pulled down Davison about a yard short, turning the ball back to its offense, needing just to run out the clock.

On third-and-six, Bosco’s offensive line came through once again. The unit did not allow a single sack in the game, but this play call was slightly different than the mass protection they had offered Clarkson throughout.

A screen pass. As the blitz came, the line gave Clarkson just enough time to get the ball out to Matayo Uiagalelei. As Uiagalelei turned upfield four yards behind the line of scrimmage — a full 10 yards from the clinching first-down marker — Sean Na’a put a strong block onto the defender and created the room needed to ice the game.

Rollinson did not use the final timeout, and Bosco head coach Jason Negro led the sideline celebration as the clock ticked closer to zero.

This game was the first CIF-SS championship game to take place at the Rose Bowl since 1944, as part of the Rose Bowl’s 100th anniversary celebration. With 78 total Div. I prospects, according to Sportsbook Live, it looked more like a college game than high school.

These two schools are consistently at the top of the charts, not just in California but nationally. Over the last half-decade, there has been no rival competition at the level of this game. On Friday, for the first time since 2019, Bosco got back on top.

See the full USA TODAY High School Sports Super 25 recap