A championship game between two juggernauts featuring the two top quarterbacks in their respective class.
This doesn’t happen in high school football.
On Saturday, No. 1 pro-style and No. 1 overall quarterback DJ Uiagalelei and St. John Bosco (Bellflower, California) will play against No. 1 dual-threat and No. 2 overall quarterback Bryce Young and Mater Dei (Santa Ana, California).
The two have played against each other four times overall and once already this year.
“We’re almost kind of used to these guys competing in close proximity for so long now, but now that this moment has arrived, it truly is kind of the last head-to-head battle in high school with these two, it is pretty startling how rare this is,” said 247Sports Director of Scouting Barton Simmons.
Last year, though Young was regarded as one of the top quarterbacks, he wasn’t a widely-held No. 1 dual-threat quarterback. That changed as he tore through this year’s schedule.
The first Mater Dei vs. St. John Bosco matchup of the season, a 38-24 Monarchs win on Oct. 25, was the first time two quarterbacks ranked No. 1 and 2 in the class faced off in the modern recruiting era, based on 247Sports Composite Rankings.
“I don’t think there’s (been) anything (like) the magnitude of these two,” said co-founder and editor-and-chief of High School Football America Jeff Fisher.
Fisher recalled Kyler Murray vs. Shawn Robinson in the Tom Landry Classic in 2015. Murray ended high school as the No. 1 dual-threat QB in 2015, but Robinson was the No. 6 dual-threat in 2017 and not as well-known as a sophomore in that matchup.
Current USC quarterback JT Daniels, No. 2 pro-style in the Class of 2018, faced off against highly-touted prospects including 2016 No. 3 pro-style KJ Costello (Stanford), 2018 No. 2 dual-threat Dorian Thompson-Robinson (UCLA) and 2019 No. 2 pro-style Ryan Hilinski (South Carolina). Hilinski had a tough run, also facing Young, Uiagalelei and 2018 No. 3 pro-style Tanner McKee (Stanford).
But none of those fit the specifications of the top two quarterbacks. And none were in the championship game.
Future NFL quarterback Carson Palmer played against future NFL running back DeShaun Foster for a title in 1997, Fisher remembered. But that was simply a matchup between stars, not a battle between ranked quarterbacks.
Expanding to players in different classes, maybe the closest to come to it was Uiagalelei two years ago, his first championship game vs. Mater Dei.
“Since he’s been the guy that everybody’s had marked for greatness … he really started it in the Mater Dei rivalry in ’17,” Fisher said. “That was against JT Daniels.”
Time and location might be the defining reason – beyond talent level, of course – that Uiagalelei and Young are facing off for a title game as the top quarterbacks. It’s not a coincidence so many players named in this article are from California, a QB hotbed with many teams able to travel around and play the likes of other national powers.
But even so, proximity doesn’t define if two teams will play. Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, the No. 1 pro-style and dual-threat quarterbacks in 2018, respectively, both lived in Georgia. Neither faced off in high school.
As early as Johnny Unitas, western Pennsylvania was home to future legends at quarterback. Joe Montana and Jim Kelly, both in the 1983 NFL Draft Class, grew up in the area. It doesn’t appear they ever matched up at the high school level, though, and even if they had, there were no championships, let alone player rankings.
“I think it’s more of a modern day thing, because if you think about it, ratings haven’t been around for a long time,” Fisher said. “The Elite 11 only dates back to what, the late ’90s? So, where anybody kind of put things in perspective to say somebody’s one, somebody’s two, is more modern.”
Today, high school ranks are shared widely, much more so than in the ’70s or even the ’90s. As high school transfers become more prominent, rankings more advanced and schedules developed to satisfy the crave for national matchups, Fisher thinks may be more and more games between top QBs.
With Young rocketing up recruitment rankings in his dominant senior season, this matchup is set.
For the second year in a row, Young and Uiagalelei will play for the championship. It’s their fourth game overall against each other. The stakes are higher than ever.
If No. 1 Mater Dei can pull off the win, it would be the Monarchs’ third straight CIF-Southern Section title and put them one win away from a three-peat as state and potential National Champions. If that does happen, they would be just the fourth group to accomplish this feat since USA TODAY joined the list of selectors in 1982.
As for No. 4 St. John Bosco, Uiagalelei enters his third straight championship appearance after losing the last two to Mater Dei. He has the individual accolades, being named ALL-USA Offensive Player of the Year last year, but the Braves ultimately fell short of their title aspirations both of the last two years.
A win here would put them in position to play in the California State Open Division title game and cap off a historic career for the Clemson quarterback commit.
“Going back through not only my brain but my record book, don’t see anything like this so people should just sit back and enjoy it,” Fisher said.