Football

As expected, Serra falls to Mater Dei in CIF Open Division state championship game

MISSION VIEJO — One of the greatest teams in Central Coast Section history, a group of players led by a passionate and driven coach who knows how to motivate young men, took another shot at perfection Saturday night, another swing at the state’s top championship.

But like the past two years, Serra fell short, a second consecutive unbeaten season ending in defeat against one of Southern California’s superpowers.

This time, Mater Dei-Santa Ana took down the Padres, winning the CIF Open Division championship 35-0 at Saddleback College behind its all-star collection of major college talent. The final 11:50 was played with a running clock.

The Open title was Mater Dei’s fourth, all since 2017, and second at Serra’s expense.

A massive underdog on this stage for the third time in as many appearances, the Padres (12-1) pulled out every trick in their book to keep Mater Dei out of sorts and ran down the play clock before snaps to shorten the game.

It worked, to some degree.

Serra trailed 14-0 after the first quarter and didn’t give up a third touchdown until late in the second quarter.

The Padres played with spirited aggression, which was to be expected given the fire coach Patrick Walsh breathes into his program, but they simply were overmatched by a Mater Dei team that is loaded four- and five-star talent.

Serra head coach Patrick Walsh walks the sideline while playing Mater Dei in the first quarter of their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

When it was over, Walsh gathered the team in the locker room and told his players that he loved them.

“One of the best teams I’ve ever coached, a great senior class,” Walsh said. “Full of heart. Full of integrity. Full of pride. Nothing to be ashamed of. The only thing I would fear is if this experience tore them apart. But that’s not going to happen because this team is too tight.”

Mater Dei was far from perfect, penalized 10 times for 80 yards in the first half and 16 times for 150 yards overall.

But the Monarchs caught their own break on their first possession when a roughing-the-punter infraction opened the door for a 16-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Elijah Brown, a Stanford commit, to freshman tight end Mark Bowman.

The lead stretched to 14-0 later in the quarter on a 74-yard pass down the sideline from Brown to Marcus Harris, a four-star junior. Harris caught the ball in stride and turned on the jets to reach the end zone.

Brown finished 17 of 22 for 298 yards and four touchdowns.

Serra used the Wildcat, spread five receivers to one side of the field, called a fake punt and field goal, recovered an onside kick but with minimal success on the scoreboard.

Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown (12) looks to pass the ball against Serra in the second quarter of their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown (12) looks to pass the ball against Serra in the second quarter of their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Mater Dei (13-1) crossed the goal line again late in the first half on a 12-yard TD pass from Brown to Jonah Smith that made it 21-0 at the midway break.

“It didn’t end how I wanted it to,” Serra two-way standout Jabari Mann said. “But I love my team. I love what we did this year. I’m proud of the guys. Proud of the coaches for getting us here every year.”

Last season, an undefeated Serra team that averaged 36.6 per game lost to St. John Bosco-Bellflower 45-0 in the state’s Open Division championship game.

The Padres averaged 43.25 points per game this season while going 12-0, which included victories over Folsom and De La Salle and West Catholic Athletic League and Central Coast Section championships.

Serra finished with 58 yards of offense on Saturday in 39 plays. Mater Dei had 386 yards in 43 plays.

So the story goes.

In California during this era, two teams play at a level nobody in Northern California and very few in Southern California have reached.

Mater Dei's Shaun Scott (24) blocks a kick by Serra's Luke Diago (31) in the second quarter of their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Mater Dei’s Shaun Scott (24) blocks a kick by Serra’s Luke Diago (31) in the second quarter of their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

“It’s not the outcome we wanted the past three years,” senior safety Joseph Bey said. “But brotherhood is something you can’t buy. Some things just didn’t go our way. I thought we played a really good first half. That first drive we stopped them and then we rushed the punter. That really hurt.”

Mater Dei widened the margin to 28-0 on an 8-yard run by Jordon Davison, a four-star junior from the Bay Area, and 35-0 early in the fourth quarter on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Jack Ressler.

Before Serra took the field, it watched Folsom — a team it beat in August — hoist a state championship trophy by winning the Division 1-A title with a 20-14 victory over St. Bonaventure.

If Serra had lost to Folsom and/or De La Salle, it might have had a chance to win another division this weekend.

Instead, a senior class that included standouts such as Mann, Bey, Maealiuaki Smith and Danny Niu will leave Serra without a state title but as the top team in NorCal during their era.

Was seeing a team it beat celebrate a state title hard to watch, given what Serra was up against in the nightcap?

“The best team in Northern California, hands down, bar none,” Walsh said. “We beat other teams that were down here. Not hard at all. No. 1 team in NorCal and if the cost of being the No. 1 team in our area is this, then we’re going to going to continue to strive to do this. That’s just the way it’s going to be.

“We’re the undisputed champs. We’ve gone undefeated back-to-back in the WCAL. That’s never been done since 1958. I’m so proud of this team. I am proud of these kids. I wish I could have done a better job coaching tonight, getting them in position to play better. But I have no regrets and I love the group.”

Mater Dei's Marcus Harris (10) makes a reception in front of Serra's Jaden Green (3) in the second quarter of their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Mater Dei’s Marcus Harris (10) makes a reception in front of Serra’s Jaden Green (3) in the second quarter of their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Serra's Braden Agosta (13) runs for yardage against Mater Dei in the second quarter of their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Serra’s Braden Agosta (13) runs for yardage against Mater Dei in the second quarter of their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Serra's John Holthaus (79) walks off the field dejected after being defeated by Mater Dei during their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Mater Dei defeated Serra 35-0. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Serra’s John Holthaus (79) walks off the field dejected after being defeated by Mater Dei during their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Mater Dei defeated Serra 35-0. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

 

Mater Dei's Mark Bowman (19) breaks a tackle by Serra's Teddy Chung (12) to score a touchdown in the first quarter of their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Mater Dei’s Mark Bowman (19) breaks a tackle by Serra’s Teddy Chung (12) to score a touchdown in the first quarter of their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Serra head coach Patrick Walsh congratulates Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown (12) after being defeated by Mater Dei during their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Mater Dei defeated Serra 35-0. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Serra head coach Patrick Walsh congratulates Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown (12) after being defeated by Mater Dei during their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Mater Dei defeated Serra 35-0. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Serra head coach Patrick Walsh consoles Jabari Mann (5) after being defeated by Mater Dei during their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Mater Dei defeated Serra 35-0. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Serra head coach Patrick Walsh consoles Jabari Mann (5) after being defeated by Mater Dei during their CIF state football championship open division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Mater Dei defeated Serra 35-0. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

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