Coming into the CIF Southern Section Division 14 finals, St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy, also known as PMA, is the top seed and the favorite for a reason. That reason is as simple as that they’re unbeaten through 12 games. But there isn’t a real gap, and this will almost certainly be the Warriors’ biggest test of the season.
Not only is South (Torrance) the victor of their half of the bracket, but they already almost beat PMA this season. When the two teams met on September 13 in a preseason tune-up before league play, South led for almost the entire game before losing 36-35 in a valiant comeback effort by St. Pius X-St. Matthias. Coming into the playoffs, PMA considered that to be their biggest highlight of the season, in addition to winning their first ever league title.
It’s really hard to beat an evenly-matched foe twice in a row, and South is arguably the strongest team PMA has seen this year. The Warriors are coming off a narrow win over an equally strong squad in Vista Del Lago, whereas South just beat Loara 30-7 in one of their best games yet this season. Loara upset No. 2 Sierra Vista, who was widely considered the Division 14 favorite along with PMA, in the quarterfinals. Blowing them out was a statement win for the Spartans, who are 9-4 and have won six out of their last seven.
PMA has less than 30 players on their team, so everybody goes both ways and a lot of their best players start on both ends. They are filled with strong, versatile athletes, and a lot of teams have trouble matching up with them athletically. Seniors Brenden Hodge, Domingo Ladson, and Bruce Walker are all getting college interest at WR and DB, while filling in other roles at times. For instance, Ladson had 112 receiving yards last week against Vista Del Lago in addition to an 84-yard kick return touchdown. Junior Ahmir Ford has had a great season at quarterback as well.
South has won some shootouts and some defensive battles alike this season. Offensively, they’re led by QB Drew Nash, who has 2,744 passing yards and 32 touchdowns in the air to only five picks on 65% completion. Kade Jones, Cade Bargar, and Bryce Caulfield are the primary targets. RBs Carson Hollandsworth and Jaxon Fish give them a strong enough ground presence to keep defenses honest.
Defensively, the Spartans spread the hitting around from the line to the backfield. Denton Lo Piccolo, Jason Dimacali, and 6-2, 305-pound Leivi Semaia anchor a defensive line that doesn’t produce a ton of sacks but has been strong all year. Bargar, Daniel Palma, and Devin Medhat have been standouts at linebacker. South’s secondary is led by Jones at strong safety and Hollandsworth at corner. Every single one of those players has over 70 tackles this season except for Dimacali at 69, who is the biggest pass-rushing threat on the team with seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
If their regular season matchup was any indication, there’s not much separating these two teams, and it should be a great game to watch. St. Pius X-St. Matthias is the favorite, and only one game away from completing the dream season in only their third year as a program. But they might have to play their best game of the season to pull it off.