It was the game of the year, or even the century, according to some. In the end, the hype-driven face off between USA TODAY Super 25 No. 1 IMG Academy (Fla.) and defending national champion Mater Dei (Calif.) mostly lived up to the hype, particularly when both teams had to come through late in the game.
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Mater Dei used a late drive to take a 28-24 lead on a quarterback keeper from 5-star junior quarterback and USC commit Bryce Young. Then the Monarchs held on by shutting down IMG’s vaunted offense on a final drive, turning the ball over on downs and running out the clock.
“Growing up, people around me always told me to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” Young told Fox Sports West, which broadcast the game. “That’s something I’ve tried to take to heart. … The credit goes to (the coaches).”
The game had more of an NFL feel than the wild west offensive free flow that often characterizes high school football, even at the top level. With two teams featuring a bevy of four and five-star junior and senior prospects, defenses proved far more difficult to handle. The game was scoreless at the end of the first quarter before four-star IMG Academy running back Noah Cain broke through for the first TD in the second.
Mater Dei immediately responded with a touchdown pass from Young to five-star senior wide receiver Bru McCoy. The game went to half 7-6 (Mater Dei had an extra point blocked), and after Mater Dei called on some trickery for a double-reverse pitch pass touchdown that ended in the hands of Sean Dollars. A two-point conversion made it 14-7 Mater Dei.
Cue five-star IMG running back Trey Sanders, who hit the jets on a long run to tie the game again.
Mater Dei would again call on offensive deception to re-take the lead, this time using a pass to a tackle eligible lineman for a touchdown that gave the Monarchs a 21-14 lead.
But just when it looked like IMG might be done, the Ascenders responded with an impressive touchdown drive that tied the game, then a stout defensive stop and a field goal to take a late, 24-21 lead.
No problem for the defending champs, and Young in particular, who was 6-for-6 on the game winning drive before eventually scoring the game-winning touchdown on a scramble slipping through the middle with less than 1:20 remaining.
One more defensive stop for Mater Dei, and a victory formation brought a definite contender for win of the year, and a statement victory that could propel the Monarchs to back-to-back national championships … if they can take care of business the rest of the way (no small feat).
There’s no question that the win meant a bit more to Young — who finished an impressive 21-of-29 for 304 yards and two touchdowns — and his teammates, given both the attention and stress that came with it, as the quarterback made clear after the win.
“I have a tremendous faith in my offensive line and my receivers,” Young told Fox Sports West. I saw that field goal (for IMG) and I knew we were going to put a drive together. We practice that and work on our drills. I have faith in my guys and I was glad they could get it done for me.”
While they couldn’t pull out a victory, IMG’s running back duo was still fantastic. Sanders finished with 181 yards and a touchdown while Cain had 130 yards and a score, all against legitimate Division I-caliber defenders.