Column: Mater Dei and Servite set new standard for elite high school football in Monarchs’ 46-37 win

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Saturday night’s Trinity League showdown between Servite and Mater Dei set a new standard of excellence for high school football in Southern California. It was that good.

Mater Dei won 46-37, but what was so impressive from both teams was the level of execution, especially on offense. Saturday’s sold out crowd of 9,000 was treated to an epic chess match featuring some of the country’s best high school football players. The game exceeded all expectations.

For three and a half quarters, Servite went shot for shot with Mater Dei, but the Monarchs just had a little more left in the tank at the end and hung on to win after Oklahoma commit Raleek Brown ran in a 22-yard score with 7:49 to play. The touchdown put Mater Dei ahead 46-37 and that was the final.

“The offense responded every time,” Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson said. “They’d score, we’d answer. We went in thinking we’d probably have to punt at least four or five times and we only punted twice.”

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QUARTERBACKS PUT ON A CLINIC

Arizona bound Servite quarterback Noah Fifita has mastered playing QB at the high school level. Getting to the 30 point threshold against the Monarchs had happened only twice before in the past five seasons prior to Saturday. It takes a special talent to consistently execute against Mater Dei and Fifita did completing 26 of 41 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns.

He came up with key plays all night.

On Servite’s first drive that resulted in a field goal, Fifita gained 25 yards on a third and four QB keeper. He looked like Harry Houdini performing a magic trick to avoid the sack. In the second half, he picked up another third and two with his legs that led to a Friar touchdown. On Servite’s next drive, Fifita somehow managed to sidestep an oncoming David Bailey and throw a dart to Wesley Taylor for a first down. A few plays later he connected with Tetairoa McMillan (more on him later) for a breathtaking 22-yard touchdown that tied the game at 31 with 2:13 to play in the third quarter.

“The guy that makes the engine run is Noah, oh my god,” Rollinson said. “His escapability tonight was unbelievable.”

On the other side, Elijah Brown continued to be Elijah Brown: the sophomore QB who looks wise beyond his years and doesn’t make mistakes. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown.

Similarly to Fifita, Brown had his share of impressive moments too.

He hit CJ Williams for a 23-yard touchdown on the Monarchs opening possession by placing the ball perfectly over the receiver’s right shoulder where only he could get it. Brown hit Williams seven more times over the course of the night with two coming on crucial third downs. Brown also had a beautifully weighted pass to Cooper Barkate that went for 31 yards and set up a five yard touchdown run by Quincy Craig late in the third quarter. The score extended the Monarch lead to 39-31.

Fifita and Brown were each exceptional — that was the best quarterback battle SoCal has seen since Bryce Young and DJ Uiagalelei in 2019.

CAM SIDNEY VS. TETAIROA MCMILLAN WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION

With Mater Dei star senior cornerback Domani Jackson out for the season with a knee injury, someone new had to cover McMillan this season and Cam Sidney took on the challenge. McMillan finished with 15 receptions for 163 yards and two touchdowns in the game, which is obviously a fantastic performance, but Sidney had his moments too and overall that matchup was pretty even. In other words, against a lesser defender, McMillan would have had an even better night.

Both Pac-12 commits made plays (Sidney to Cal and McMillan to Oregon.) Sidney broke up multiple passes intended for McMillan including two would-be touchdowns. McMillan hauled in the circus catch that tied the game at 31 and then also snagged Servite’s final touchdown of the night.

“He’s a really big guy, so you kinda have to be more physical with him,” Sidney said. “Noah and TMac have a great chemistry. The balls are always on time. It was a challenge. I overcame it and I’m glad I did. I gave it 100 percent and this was the outcome…We finished the game.”

PARTING SHOTS

There was so much more that went into Saturday night’s thriller than the quarterbacks and the McMillan vs. Sidney battle. Mater Dei’s Quincy Craig scored four touchdowns on four carries and Raleek Brown finished over the 100-yard mark and had a TD of his own. Rollinson was really happy with his offensive line.

Servite allowing 46 points defensively is what ultimately lost the Friars the game, but it wasn’t like Troy Thomas’ defense played that poorly — Mater Dei is just that good offensively. There were a few special teams gaffes that led to short fields for Mater Dei, which didn’t help, but Mater Dei had a special teams miscue of their own: Servite’s Jacob Manu scooped up a blocked punt and returned it for the Friars first touchdown.

This game was dead even for three and a half quarters. Mater Dei just made a few more plays. Hopefully there’s a postseason rematch.

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