Can Serra end historical football season with miracle finish against nation’s No. 1 team?

The Serra Padres have had a historic season. Thirteen victories without a loss. Tight wins on the road over Northern California heavyweights De La Salle and Folsom. A dominant run through the powerful West Catholic Athletic League.

Running-clock victories in the first two rounds of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs and an explosive fourth quarter in the section final against upstart Archbishop Mitty, after being pushed for one of the few times all season.

But for many weeks, they knew what was coming at the finish line. They knew that as Northern California’s No. 1 team, they’d be the opponent for the nation’s No. 1 team in the California Interscholastic Federation’s Open Division state championship game.

It was either going to be St. John Bosco-Bellflower or Mater Dei-Santa Ana, the Southern California heavyweights that have taken turns winning state Open Division titles since they essentially became feeder programs for college football less than a decade ago.

Last year, Mater Dei beat Serra 44-7 in the Open final.

Saturday night, Serra will take its chances against St. John Bosco, which beat Mater Dei 24-22 for the Southern Section Division I championship at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 25.

Mater Dei entered the section final ranked No. 1 nationally.

Now Bosco is No. 1.

Serra, for what it’s worth, is ranked 19th in the latest national rankings published by USA Today.

But the Padres are an overwhelming underdog as they prepare to play Bosco (12-1) at Saddleback College in Misson Viejo to close out the California high school football season.’s computer projects Bosco to win 41-7, which is an improvement for Serra from last season’s projection by for the Mater Dei game. Serra was predicted to lose that one 48-0.

Serra coach Patrick Walsh, a master motivator who is in his 22nd season at the San Mateo school, doesn’t need a reminder about what his team is up against. He has seen the recruiting rankings. But he also knows his team deserves to be in this game.

Last year, there was a debate about whether Serra, De La Salle or Folsom should have been selected by the CIF for the Open final. This year Serra proved on the field that it belonged by beating those teams to start the season.

“We’re the clear team to represent the North in the biggest game not only in California but in the nation really when you’re playing the No. 1 team in the country,” Walsh said when the matchup was announced two weeks ago. “That’s something I am very proud of. What we can control is being the best we can be as people and as a program and to strive to be at the very top and that’s where we are.

“After that, these two weeks, it’s a celebration of everything this team is. Our theme is ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay,’ which is a poem by Robert Frost. I am going to use this opportunity to celebrate this wonderful group of young men who have come together to produce some of the best football the Peninsula has seen in years, if not ever, and that’s up to you guys to decide that.”

Clearly, no matter what unfolds Saturday night, Serra will go down as one of not only the Peninsula’s greatest teams but also the CCS’s.

If the Padres somehow pull off a miracle victory, well, that debate would end, too.

They’d be No. 1.


What: CIF Open Division state championship

Where: Saddleback College, Mission Viejo

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Stream: NFHS network

Storylines: Serra is 1-3 in four previous trips to a state championship game, with its victory coming in the 2-AA final in 2017, 38-14 over Cajon-San Bernardino. … Bosco is 3-0 in state title games, all Open Division wins over De La Salle (2013, 2016, 2019). … Bosco’s only loss this season was to Mater Dei, 17-7 in league play on Oct. 7. … Serra offensive coordinator Steven Lo left after the state title victory in 2017 to become the offensive coordinator at Bosco, a position he continues to hold. … Lo made the move because of the high cost of living on the Peninsula. … Serra coach Patrick Walsh said of his former OC, “His attention to detail is ridiculous. He’s just got a very, very focused approach on every single detail.” … Serra’s title game against Mater Dei last season was also played at Saddleback College. … Anonymous donors funded a chartered plane for the Padres’ trip to Orange County last year and will do so again this weekend. “We’re going to run back the same plan,” Walsh said. “We’re going to charter a plane. I reached out to the same individuals who supported us last year. They said yes again. We’re going to hit repeat on the process and all we can do is dive in on the process and focus on everything that goes into this game, which is a gargantuan task, to say the least.” … In the Class of 2023, Bosco has seven players ranked among California’s Top 50 by, including five-star edge rusher Matayo Uiagalelei, the brother of former Bosco star QB DJ Uiagalelei. Serra has zero in the Top 50. … In the Class of 2024, Bosco has three players rated among the Top 10 in the state and five among the state’s Top 50 by 247Sports. Serra has one, QB Maealiuaki Smith (No. 38). … Walsh is not only friends with Lo, but also Bosco head coach Jason Negro, whom Serra had along with Walsh on a podcast this week.

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