LAS VEGAS — If No. 1 Mater Dei wants to hold on to its ranking, it must knock off the three-time defending Super 25 champion Bishop Gorman, which visits the Monarchs on Friday in one of more anticipated matchups of the season.
Bruce Rollinson, who is in his 29th year as head coach at Mater Dei, said this game ranks right up there with the series his Monarchs had with the De La Salle teams from the late 1990s.
“Unfortunately, we could not beat them,” Rollinson said. “But two of those games were probably two of the best high school football games that I’ve ever been involved in. Hopefully that scenario plays out again Friday night.”
What amounts to a pair of eerily similar teams on both sides of the ball, here are five keys to victory for Mater Dei, if it intends to end Bishop Gorman’s 55-game win streak:
1. AMON-RA ST. BROWN
Arguably the No. 1 receiver in the nation, St. Brown has been dealing with a finger injury for quite some time, although no one is saying exactly when he injured it.
Neither he nor fellow senior wide out CJ Parks, played last week in the Monarchs’ 31-7 victory against Bishop Amat (La Puente). While Parks’ ankle should be ready for Friday’s showdown, Rollinson said St. Brown is a game-time decision.
2. JT DANIELS
Some experts and coaches believe the 2019 USC commit could emerge as the nation’s top quarterback by season’s end. In last week’s win over Amat, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound pro-style QB completed 16 of 23 passes for 179 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
The biggest thing for Daniels will be surviving Gorman’s fierce front seven, which harassed DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) quarterback Ty Lenhart last week, picking him off twice. Rollinson said he told Daniels this game is not on his shoulders, and to trust the cast of characters around him, provided he makes good decisions under duress.
3. TOMMY BROWN
The 6-foot-7, 320-pound Alabama commit could very well be just as important a key as the first two. He has the task of protecting Daniels from Gorman’s brazen defensive tackle Adam Plant and the nation’s No. 1 linebacker Palaie Gaoteote.
Big No. 75, who chose Bama over Oregon, is an elite left tackle and bigger than an average NFL tackle, let alone someone blocking for the next Tuscaloosa gunslinger. Friday night his job is protect Daniels’ blind side.
4. STEPHON ROBINS
Never heard of him? You will after Friday night. Here we have a classic case of someone who could’ve started at several powerhouse schools in Southern Cal, but bided his time, while working hard and learning from Quentin Lake, who is now at UCLA.
Rollinson said he has been most impressed with the 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior’s work ethic, and how he’s taken advantage of every opportunity thrown his way. Robins has a keen sense for the ball, and quick hands to disrupt most receivers.
Unfortunately, Gorman’s Jalen “Speedy” Nailor is not like most receivers, and will be a good test for Robins after last week’s two-tackle, one-interception season-debut.
5. DEFENSIVE LINE
While the Monarch’s offensive line averages around 290 pounds, according to Rollinson, he said the boys on the defensive line average about 275 pounds. They must get past a skilled and well-conditioned offensive line led by Gorman’s Jacob Isaia if they want to threaten quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
And even if they do get to the backfield, the question is whether or not they can catch Thompson-Robinson. This defensive line must put the pressure on and keep the heat on the nation’s No. 3 dual-threat quarterback.
TOMORROW: Bishop Gorman’s five key players
Follow Willie Ramirez on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez.