LAS VEGAS — The three-time defending Super 25 national champion Bishop Gorman Gaels started their season impressively last week, dispatching then-No. 6 DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.), 35-22.
With the win, the Gaels moved up from No. 4 to No. 3 in the Super 25 Expert rankings and No. 1 in the Super 25 Computer rankings — the latter of which drew this from senior tight end Brevin Jordan on Twitter:
For Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), the current No. 1 team in the Super 25 rankings, “finally” is likely the right sentiment leading up to Friday night’s showdown with the visiting Gaels, as the two national powerhouses meet for the first time ever.
At jeopardy for Gorman, potentially, is its chance for a fourth consecutive national championship, not to mention its 55-game win streak.
“I’ve been here nine years and it seems like it’s gone by like that,” Gorman coach Kenny Sanchez said. “We’ve just focused on each game coming up. I don’t feel like we’ve won 55 games, I’ve never sat back and thought about it, there’s really no time to. We had DeMatha last week, we have Mater Dei this week, we have Miami Central next week and De La Salle the week after that. There’s enough within the season to worry about, then to be concerned about the final outcome.
“Every week, we want to make sure we’ve prepared for a good team, which I feel like we are damn near every week. We feel like what we do week in and week out is good enough, and we feel the plan in place is good enough and we just want to get better at that.”
Here are five keys to victory for Bishop Gorman, if it hopes to extend its winning streak by defeating Mater Dei:
The No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the nation made things look very easy in his first varsity start last week, as he completed 19 of 23 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns, while running for two more. His patience as a pocket passer, and maturity under pressure sets him apart. He sees the field well, and can fire the ball with precision.
While several Las Vegas coaches suggested he would show inconsistency and lack of mechanics as he ascended to the starting role, the UCLA commit displayed poise in completing 82.6 percent of his attempts last week. Against Mater Dei’s inexperienced secondary, he has a chance to have his way and pick things apart with a talented receiving corps.
Sanchez said his biggest key was his leadership in the offseason. The uncommitted left tackle went from 260 pounds to 275 pounds from his junior to senior seasons, after further committing to the weight room. His job Friday night will be to protect Thompson-Robinson against Mater Dei’s defensive line, which averages 275 pounds.
Isaia is very quick, and has fantastic footwork. His energy is contagious, and sparks fellow lineman – Cade Briggs, Jordan Mack, Donovan Moore, and Beau Taylor – to perform at their best, holding things down in the trenches.
Until the running game becomes a threat – the Gaels gained 65 yards last week – Jordan, Jalen Nailor, Cedric Tillman and Jimmy Telles all become key components in this offense. While the entire nation is familiar with Jordan, a Miami commit who is one of the best tight ends in high school football, and is becoming familiar with Arizona State commit Nailor, the Monarchs’ defensive backs may want to pay attention to the blue-collar work of Tillman and Telles.
All four possess a toughness that allows them to go for any ball, anywhere on the field. Jordan falls in a long line of talented Gorman tight ends who will barrel you over if challenged, while the three wideouts have great hands and will test any defensive back. As for Nailor, well, don’t let him get into open field as they don’t call him Speedy for nothing.
The nation’s No. 1 linebacker will be zeroed in on Mater Dei quarterback JT Daniels, and keeping his defense focused against the Monarchs’ potentially high-octane offense. Gaoteote said Wednesday the biggest key will be getting early-game jitters out, something he’s confident could happen during warmups.
Last week, minus two of the best receivers in Southern California – Amon-Ra St. Brown and C.J. Parks – the Monarchs used a physical attack to wear down Bishop Amat (La Puente) during a 31-7 win, rushing for 179 yards on 38 attempts. Sanchez said Gaoteote has something no coach in America can instill, and that is instinct. His football IQ is superior to many of the players Sanchez has ever coached, and it leads to a style that sets him apart.
If there is one area of concern for Sanchez and the Gaels, it should be the inexperience in the defensive backfield. Nailor is joined by JoJuan Claiborne, Kyu Kelly, and Noah Lopez. All upperclassmen, they’re an athletic hard-working group that will get better as the season progresses.
If St. Brown and Parks return, this could be a shootout if Daniels finds his targets often. St. Brown is regarded by many as the No. 1 receiver in the nation, but is a game time decision. Parks is expected to play. Claiborne said this week the biggest thing for the quartet is communication on every play, and getting better at that, which in turn will help avoiding giving up the big play.
The good thing, Sanchez said, is his secondary practices against what he feels is what is one of the best receiving corps in the nation. “Iron sharpens iron,” Sanchez said.