After eight weeks, nobody has taken down the two best teams in California. Only one game has even been close. As October wraps up, it’s time for what may be the most meaningful regular-season game in the country.
It’s Mater Dei vs. St. John Bosco week.
Last season, Bosco got the better of the Monarchs in the regular season but Mater Dei won when it mattered, in the CIF-SS Div. 1 Championship game.
Now, elite quarterbacks DJ Uiagalelei and Bryce Young will go head-to-head again. But the talent at St. John Bosco and Mater Dei runs much deeper than Chosen 25 talent or five-star prospects.
Here are three such players on each team who could make a difference.
No. 1 Mater Dei
Kobah Fuamatu, a linebacker on Mater Dei, seems to be constantly around the ball. He’s good at infiltrating the backfield and has a strip sack on the season. If Bosco focuses too much on a player like linebacker Raesjon Davis, Fuamatu can and will make them pay. If he creates havoc, his performance also impact lanes teammates get. Against a quarterback like Uiagalalei who is elite at escaping pressure and can get the ball to receivers at all levels all the field, it will be important.
The leading tackler on Mater Dei isn’t is five-star player. The athlete with the most tackles for loss and sacks isn’t a highly-recruited prospect. It’s Ray Leutele, who is unranked by recruiting sites and, according to Rivals, has just one offer, from Northern Arizona University.
If there’s one guy on either team who epitomizes unheralded star, it’s Leutele, who has 56 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. He has three games with nine tackles and five games with two or more tackles for loss. This game against St. John Bosco will be a big test. If he passes, Mater Dei will be all the better for it.
Mater Dei’s fourth receiver
Kody Epps has established himself as the No. 1 wide receiver. CJ Williams and Kyron Ware-Hudson have proven themselves reliable and have near-identical receptions and yards. But a breakout game from Josiah Zamora or Cristian Dixon would be huge for Mater Dei. St. John Bosco has some solid players in its secondary, but none have the upside of last year’s tandem of Chris Steele and Trent McDuffie, so cornerbacks might need extra help. Mater Dei’s depth at the position could be a turning point in this game.
No. 3 St. John Bosco
Wide receiver Beaux Colins, averaging 25 yards per reception, is St. John Bosco’s best deep threat on the team. There have been times when the offense needs a spark and Uiagalelei connects with him deep or for a long catch-and-run. If Mater Dei takes the lead early, it would be unsurprising to see this happen this weekend, too. It will be interesting to see how Mater Dei attacks Collins. Sophomore cornerback Domani Jackson is the fastest Monarchs player, so even though Collins doesn’t have as many receptions as Kris Hutson or Logan Loya, Jackson might be the best match to contain him.
After being injured most of last year, running back Nate Jones has yet to break out this season. But as a senior who has at least been part of the rivalry game atmosphere, his presence will be important next to sophomore running backs Jabari Bates and Rayshon Luke. A team with a quarterback like Uiagalelei doesn’t have to rush the ball much, but if Bosco can’t establish the run game in this matchup, Mater Dei will be better suited defending the pass downfield. Jones had the most carries from Week 3 through 8. If he can pick up meaningful yardage and maybe even his third touchdown of the season, it could go a long way.
Defensive lineman Kobe Pepe leads Bosco in tackles (54), tackles for loss (nine) and sacks (eight). With three games of experience against Mater Dei, two facing Young last year, how much pressure will he be able to put on the star quarterback? Mater Dei has survived the likes of St. Frances Academy and St. John’s College High School’s big defensive lines. Maybe Pepe’s experience can be a more defining factor than simply size. It will need to be — stopping Young out of the pocket is just as difficult as when he’s in.