St. John Bosco beats Mater Dei to win Division 1 football title

The 15,955 spectators who made it into the Rose Bowl on Friday night, some of whom braved an epic traffic jam and struggled to find parking, were treated to exactly what they expected: hard-hitting, anything-goes 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 decided by a single play. St. John Bosco held on to a 24:22 lead by 3:08 and had to prevent Mater Dei from converting a two-point conversion after Jordon Davison scored in a one-yard run. The Monarchs decided to give the ball back to Davison. This time, the 6-foot-2, 262-pound Vertonio Weatherton became a roadblock, dragging Davison to the turf just before the end zone.

“Everything we’ve worked for since we started playing, that’s it,” Weatherton told a teammate early in the half.

St. John Bosco (13-1) gave Mater Dei (13-1) his 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 a vindication for senior quarterback Pierce Clarkson, who passed touchdown passes from 45 yards to Jahlil McClain, 20 yards to Matayo Uiagalelei and 72 yards to his first win Deandre Moore threw about the monarchs.

“This is where your legacy will be left,” Clarkson said of the message from one of his coaches after suffering a first-half injury and coming back. “And I just knew it was one of those moments where it would define me.”

It was the first high school loss for Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown, who started the game 29-0. It was the last game for 73-year-old Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson, who announced his retirement two weeks ago. According to the record book, he finishes with eight section titles and a record of 339-86-2 in 34 years as head coach.

Rollinson, who left the field one 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 with 291 yards and two touchdowns.

As in the first meeting between the two powerhouses on 7 October, which Mater Dei won 17-7, this was again a first-half defense at its best. The half ended in a 7:7 draw.

A big difference was that St. John Bosco could put pressure on Brown, sacking him twice in the first half and cramming the Monarchs into fourth-down situations twice.

Mater Dei took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on Brown’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Harris.

Clarkson countered with a 45-yard touchdown pass to McClain in the second quarter.

The problem with both offenses was not running the ball, making it difficult for both quarterbacks to find enough time to find receivers. Brown was 12 of 14 as he rushed for 136 yards in the first half, but he never looked comfortable. Clarkson briefly left the game after being hit in the right knee following a pass. He was able to return, unlike in the last match against Mater Dei when he sat out the second half due to concussion protocols.

The second half belonged to the Braves. They took the lead by 24:13. St. John Bosco took his first lead in the opening run of the third quarter. Clarkson connected with Uiagalelei for a 20-yard touchdown pass and a 14-7 lead.

Just before that, McClain made a diving 32-yard reception. It is this kind of game that St. John Bosco needed to defend Mater Dei.

Mater Dei made a comeback in the fourth quarter. There was a 25-yard field goal, then a botched punt snap by St. John Bosco. That gave the monarchs an opportunity to even the score. But throughout the night, St. John Bosco’s defensive line rose in clutch situations. The Braves stopped the Monarchs in fourth place four times.

“In this class of 2023, we want to do something special,” Clarkson said. “We really wanted to win because we haven’t managed to do that in recent years. That was really for our brothers, the ones from last year, the year before that.”

For those wondering how it got to this point where Mater Dei or St. John Bosco has won every Division 1 title since 2016, it’s gathering the best talent in Southern California.

Just look at where some of their former players have ended up. From Mater Dei are Amon-Ra St. Brown (Detroit Lions), JT Daniels (West Virginia), David Bailey (Stanford), Raleek Brown (USC), Jaylin Davies (UCLA) and Bryce Young (Alabama).

From St. John Bosco are Trent McDuffie (Kansas City Chiefs), Wyatt Davis (Arizona Cardinals), DJ Uiagalelei (Clemson), Stephan Blaylock (UCLA), JonJon Vaughns (UCLA) and Kourt Williams (Ohio State).

It goes on and on. They’ve grown into all-star teams with second-tier players who outperform some varsity starters, resulting in an exceptional depth that sets them apart from most Southern California programs.

It was particularly evident this season that no opponent would prevent Mater Dei and St John Bosco from playing in a rematch of their Trinity League game. Playoff semifinal results of 52-0 and 41-6 were a testament to just how far they’ve retreated.

St. John Bosco will play San Mateo Serra, who defeated San Jose Archbishop Mitty 41-14, in the CIF State Championship Open Division championship game in two weeks at Saddleback College. St. John Bosco beats Mater Dei to win Division 1 football title

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