Football coaches always talk about starting fast, but for the past few seasons, St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) and Centennial (Corona) have put action behind that platitude, taking hope away from opponents early with shock-and-awe offenses.
No. 2-ranked St. John Bosco (13-0) has won all but one of its games this season while playing under a running clock and averaging 59.5 points. No. 9 Centennial (13-0) has played under a running clock against all but two opponents while averaging 56 points.
The teams meet Saturday (8 p.m., PST) at Angels Stadium in Anaheim in the in the Pac 5 Division Championship, essentially the Southern California championship of big-boy football. It will be the third consecutive year these teams have met for the right to play in the state Open Division Bowl. In 2013, St. John Bosco won 70-49. Last season, Centennial jumped to a 21-0 lead and held on for a 48-41 victory over the Braves.
“The first time we played them, we went up 14-0 in the first quarter,” St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro said. “Last year, we made a few mistakes early and you can’t do that and start fast. We had to play from behind and we just ran out of time. We have to stay as consistent as we have all year. We’ve obviously game-planned, but we have to execute it. We have to execute in all three phases. Defensively, we have to make sure we tackle. We have to play well in special teams. Last year, we had a kickoff returned for a touchdown that was called back. Those type of things, you can’t do. Hopefully, we can erase those type of mistakes.”
Both teams use balanced no-huddle offenses, but while St. John Bosco features the pass with quarterback Quentin Davis (3,547 yards, 39 touchdowns passing) and counters with running back Sean McGrew (1,668 yards and 24 touchdowns rushing), Centennial uses split formations on its line and leads with the running game with J.J. Taylor (1,719 yards and 36 touchdowns rushing) and quarterback Anthony Catalano (846 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing) while countering with the pass (Catalano has thrown for 2,635 yards and 29 touchdowns).
“They’re big, they’re fast, they have great players,” Centennial coach Matt Taylor said of the Braves. “I think this game comes down to which defense plays better. I think both offenses have guys who can score from both sides of the field. For us, it’s important to get a jump on them. We’ve always preached that. It’s more a mental thing than anything else.”
While Taylor said he was concerned his team hasn’t faced a lot of tough games until last week when they defeated Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 42-36 in a Pac-5 semifinal, Negro said the lack of close games for both teams says more about their teams than it does their respective leagues.
“I don’t think either league was down,” Negro said. “I think we have two really good football teams. In the Trinity League, you can see what they’re doing to other opponents and the only league losses were to teams like De La Salle and Bishop Gorman.”
According to Rivals.com, Bosco has six three-star or better senior recruits while Centennial has seven. The Huskies had a visit from Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Sandford at Wednesday’s practice. McGrew, meanwhile, was presented on Thursday with the Gatorade State Player of the Year Award.
“I don’t worry about them getting up for this game,” Taylor said. “For us, it’s not letting the bigness or all the hype of the game overwhelm it. It’s still a football game. Don’t let the crowd or different surface (Angels stadium is a grass field) throw you. We all know it’s going to be a big game.”