Mater Dei (Santa Ana, California) which looked unbeatable through the first 14 weeks of the season, led St. John Bosco 28-5 in the first half of the CIF-SS Div. 1 championship game on Saturday night.
It was going to be a runaway victory. The No. 1 team was going to win again and play in two weeks for its third straight National Championship.
Then St. John Bosco scored 34 points in a row. The Braves fought back in the second half and took down the two-time reigning champions 39-34.
Wide receiver Logan Loya, who transferred to St. John Bosco from Orange Lutheran (California), scored the final two touchdowns for the Braves.
After taking the lead, St. John Bosco went for a fourth-down conversion needing one yard with a five-point lead and about three minutes remaining. The ball at their own 29-yard line, the Braves needed just one yard to convert.
It was an aggressive move, but it made sense. The only proven way to stop Monarchs quarterback Bryce Young from scoring was to keep it out of his hands.
St. John Bosco did not convert. Mater Dei got the ball back with great field position.
But St. John Bosco found one more way to prevent Young from scoring and keep the ball out of his hands: Knock it out of them.
Ma’a Gaoteote stripped Young at the 13-yard line, getting St. John Bosco possession back with about 1:30 left in the game. The Braves could not ice it and had to punt, leaving Mater Dei 23 seconds to drive without any timeouts remaining.
It was not enough time.
The Monarchs have been a first-half team throughout season, but the primary reason was because they so often took insurmountable leads in that half and used the second half to run out the clock and stop playing aggressive.
Against Centennial (Corona, California) in the opening week, Mater Dei led 35-0 at the break. Against St. Frances Academy (Baltimore), the Monarchs took a 31-6 lead early in the third quarter. Against Mission Viejo (California) last week, they led 28-3 at the half.
St. John Bosco is better than all those teams. Its defense was phenomenal in the second half and quarterback DJ Uiagalelei showed what made him the ALL-USA Offensive Player of the Year last year, finishing the game with 444 passing yards and five touchdowns.
For much of the year, it looked like the only way the Monarchs could lose was if they beat themselves. In the first matchup against St. John Bosco this season, Mater Dei nearly allowed a comeback largely due to penalties.
This time around, turnovers in key situations did them in. Wide receiver Kyron Ware-Hudson, fumbled late in the third quarter with a nine-point lead, which led to a St. John Bosco score. On the next drive, Young threw an interception. He also fumbled on the potential game-winning drive.
Whatever self-inflicted wounds Mater Dei had with turnovers this season, it was never a turnover-prone team. The receiving corps has great hands. Young escapes pressure better than any other quarterback in the nation. The running game was good enough to keep defenses on their toes.
But St. John Bosco found a way to execute and force Mater Dei to give up the ball. With the sound defense forcing turnovers, Uiagalelei could get enough chances to get the ball to his play makers.
Give the Clemson quarterback commit, ranked No. 1 at his position in the country, enough opportunities, and he will do that.
That’s just what he did, leading St. John Bosco to an epic comeback over the top team in the country.
Now, Uiagalelei has one more game to secure his high school legacy. With the Player of the Year award last year but two losses in the CIF-SS Div. 1 title game to Mater Dei, he was just missing that championship.
He has finally taken them down. He earned the Southern Section trophy. Now, one win against De La Salle (Concord, California) in the California Open Division title game will send him out on top.
Mater Dei’s defense, so sound this season, could not stop him long enough. The offense, so explosive, could not maintain control.
The team, so unbeatable, could not hold on.
St. John Bosco got the victory. The Braves took down Mater Dei.