Two days before St. John Bosco and Mater Dei faced off in their regular season matchup on Oct. 13, Braves head coach Jason Negro took a phone call with USA TODAY High School Sports.
He played down the importance of the rivalry game.
“They’re not going to crown a national champion when the game’s over,” he said.
As has typically been the case since he became the St. John Bosco head coach, he was right.
And this time, it could decide whether these teams are in national championship consideration.
It’s familiar territory for two familiar foes.
For the third year in a row, the two teams will battle for the CIF Southern Section Div. 1 championship.
Bosco senior cornerback Chris Steele has been there every time.
A notorious trash-talker, he showed respect for Mater Dei when he brought them up in an interview on Nov. 7 when he called the cornerback duo of himself and Trent McDuffie (both four-star athletes, according to 247 Sports) the best in the country.
“It speaks for itself when you hold a team like Mater Dei to limited yards,” he said. “They have arguably the best receiving corps in the country, after us.”
That’s as close to a compliment that an opponent will get from Steele – they’re good, but we’re better.
That attitude of respect seems universal around the two squads preparing to meet up. Before the teams faced in October, Negro said he hoped it would be the only time the two teams would meet this year.
“If we beat them, I hope someone beats them before we have to play them again,” he said with a laugh.
“But at the end of the day, you know that the cream is always going to rise to the top, so to speak, as long as everybody can stay healthy. If we’re fortunate enough to get an opportunity to play them twice, that means we had a really good season, and I’d be really excited about the opportunity.”
Again, he was right.
Last weekend, Bosco crushed then-No. 13 Oaks Christian 56-10, and shortly after, Mater Dei put the finishing touches on its 48-14 win over then-No. 7 Centennial.
These games left no question who are the top two teams in the state.
Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson flashed a huge smile at the Fox Sports West camera when he was told his team would play Bosco again in the championship game.
“You know how much respect we have for Bosco, and the kids know it’s all about the preparation,” Rollinson said to the station after the Centennial game.
This mutual respect extends back to the time Negro joined the Bosco coaching staff and began to turn the school into a powerhouse.
Josh Rosen, who played for St. John Bosco in high school before becoming the UCLA and now Arizona Cardinals quarterback, talked about the rivalry before the teams met up in October.
“It was competitive. Not like hatred, because I knew a lot of the guys on the team,” Rosen said at the time. “Some other people might’ve gotten it in a little more than us, but friendly competition.”
The teams are still filled to the brim with stars with 45 ranked recruits.
“At the end of the day, (we’re) both talented teams, we both have the same exact kind of play style,” McDuffie said. “Really just based off of heart and who wants it more.”
Both teams have No. 1-ranked quarterbacks. They play with up-tempo passing games, though focused on different parts of the field: Bosco has three receivers with more than 750 yards, while Mater Dei relentlessly feeds five-star Bru McCoy, who has 1,240 yards and 16 TDs.
The Braves and Monarchs both have deep running games led by a dominant back with nearly identical stats – Bosco’s George Holani has 1,098 yards for 18 touchdowns while Shakobe Harper has 1,096 yards and 16 scores.
While Steele says he and McDuffie are the best cornerback duo in the country, five-star Mater Dei CB Elias Ricks, who had three interceptions returned for touchdowns last week, and four-star Darion Green-Warren might disagree.
Even the offensive and defensive lines are built with the same principles.
“Mater Dei understands how important it is to be successful up front,” Negro said. “That’s one of the things we have done in our program is made a premium on the offensive and defensive lines.”
They’re two dominant teams giving the fans a rematch they deserve.
“If you’re going to win a championship, you certainly want to beat the best, and I certainly consider them one of the best,” Negro said.
Bosco beat the Monarchs once already.
Mater Dei is still looking for that same feeling, but this time on the highest of stages.
“When they got us the first time, the kids were upset in the locker room and I’m going to go in and remind them,” Rollinson said to Fox Sports West. “I said, ‘Alright, go five in a row, get yourself back to the finals and do something about it.’”