COSTA MESA– In a strong all-around effort led by sophomore QB Noah Fifita, Servite defeated JSerra 34-21 Thursday night at Orange Coast College. Here are five takeaways from the game.
THE BATTLE FOR THIRD PLACE
Southern Section fans have had this game circled all year, as the two squads were battling it out for third place in the Trinity League behind St. John Bosco and Mater Dei. Servite will now take home third place, unless they lose to both Orange Lutheran and Santa Margarita in addition to JSerra beating both Orange Lutheran and Mater Dei. After nearly knocking off St. John Bosco and now beating JSerra, Servite will be heavily favored against Orange Lutheran and overwhelmingly favored against Santa Margarita.
The fact that this game was a long-awaited battle for third is part of why it was so intriguing. JSerra and Servite are both ranked by many as top-50 teams in the country, and even higher than that by some. So the fact that they had almost no chance to contend for a league title is astounding, and made this matchup far more important than many would assume given that both teams are out of the running for a league title.
Servite had very few miscues, and it’s hard to single many players out as top performers when they were firing on all cylinders. That said, QB Noah Fifita and CB Daniel Bates share our player of the game honors.
Fifita had four passing touchdowns and rushing touchdown, in an efficient manner as always. His receiving corps of Zedekiah Centers, Tetairoa McMillan, and Damien Moun was outstanding per usual, with all three snagging a touchdown pass and numerous key receptions. Fifita also threw a touchdown pass to RB Kyle Bandy, who had an efficient night along with RB Derek Fuentes. Servite’s offensive line did a great job holding off one of the bigger and better front sevens in the country.
Defensively, Bates led Servite with a fumble recovery that almost made it to the end zone, an interception, and outstanding work all night at corner. Noah Avinger was also everywhere defensively for the Friars. OLBs Jacob Manu and Jacob Blandburg, FS Nick Jako, and DB Karrington Dennis were all great too. FS Jack Kane had an interception as well.
For JSerra, RB Sammy Green and QB General Booty each had rushing touchdowns. Their offensive line was also effective for most of the night. Defensively, LB Jaden Genova was excellent. S New Zealand Williams had a solid night punctuated by a punt block that Max Carvalho returned for a touchdown.
IT WAS OVER WHEN
Bandy’s touchdown with 4:39 left in the fourth quarter nearly put the game out of reach. JSerra just barely fell short of converting a first down near Servite’s end zone with a little over a minute left in the game. If they had scored and converted an onside kick, the game would’ve been far from over, but that turnover on downs with about 70 seconds left ended the game.
PLAYOFF SEEDING RAMIFICATIONS
With this victory, Servite not only essentially clinches a spot in Division 1, but also puts themselves in the running for one of the top few seeds. Depending on how the rest of the season shakes out, they’re in the mix with Mission Viejo and Corona Centennial for the third seed. Unless Orange Lutheran or Santa Margarita upsets them, a top-five seed in the Division 1 playoffs is pretty much a guarantee.
THEY SAID IT
“This was a much anticipated game for us, for me especially,” Fifita told Scorebook Live after the game.
“Not a lot of people thought the first two games would be good for us…today’s goal was to make it to the D-1 playoffs and show the world that we’re really here.”
He was quick to credit his team for his individual success so far this season as a breakout sophomore.
“All props go to my O-line for buying me time and my wide receivers getting open. I really believe I got the best wide receiver corps in the world, and a lot of praise to my offensive coordinator Darnell Arceneaux. I give all the glory to them.”
Bates said that the Friars embraced the challenge of a brutal preseason schedule that included Bishop Gorman, Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks), and Cajon, and of having the first three games of league be against the top opponents.
“We wanted to play the hardest teams that we could, because the hardest teams make us better for the playoffs.”
He doesn’t expect Servite to take their foot off the pedal even with the last two games coming against slightly less intimidating foes.
“We just look to treat every team the same. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we just got to play as hard as we can.”
As Fifita said, in the Trinity League, “Any team has a chance any night.”