Fryer: Mater Dei clearly won CIF-SS title, but left us wanting Round III with St. John Bosco

Nothing against Northern California. The California coast north of the Golden Gate Bridge is spectacular, and the northern portions of the Sierra Nevada are gorgeous, too.

But the CIF State Open Division football championship game in two weeks should be Mater Dei vs. St. John Bosco Episode III.

Friday night Mater Dei pummeled St. John Bosco 35-7 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship game at the Coliseum.

Last month it was St. John Bosco 28, Mater Dei 0.

We need a best-out-of-3 finale.


Defense did it for the Monarchs (12-1) on Friday. They limited the Braves to 29 yards rushing on 20 attempts. The defense scored the game’s first touchdown, a 52-yard interception return by Abduall Sanders in the first quarter that gave Mater Dei the momentum it would possess for the remainder of the evening.

Mater Dei’s great defensive coordinator Eric Johnson put together a terrific game plan that was carried out exceptionally well by many Monarchs, including defensive backs Zabien Brown and Daryus Dixon and linemen Zeus Venegas and Semi Taulanga.

Johnson said before last month’s game that Mater Dei would be the first team to put pressure on St. John Bosco quarterback Caleb Sanchez. That did not happen then, but it did happen Friday.


It was a great win for Frank McManus, who was promoted to Mater Dei head coach this past offseason after spending seven seasons as a defensive coach. He replaced Bruce Rollinson, who coached Mater Dei to eight CIF-SS championships and four state championships, and his teams were named national champion five times.

As one veteran Orange County football coach said when asked last winter if he would apply for the Mater Dei, “Who’d want to ride that dragon?”

McManus saddled up. The loss to St. John Bosco, a loss in which the Monarchs looked like they were not ready for that big game, made some wonder if McManus was the right guy. Rollinson wore a tie to every Mater Dei game. On Friday, McManus worked the sidelines wearing his Mater Dei cap backwards.

One thing McManus had going for him from the start is his popularity with the players. When Mater Dei president Mike Brennan announced to the assembled players that McManus was their new head coach, the room went nuts with happiness and hugs.

Mater Dei coach Frank McManus, center, accepts the CIF-SS Division 1 championship plaque at the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Friday, November 24, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)


McManus went a little nuts in a good way during the postgame interview on the podium. Like a boxer who just won a big bout, he called out the reigning champion to step into the ring with the Monarchs – national No. 1 Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas.

“We’ll lace ‘em up in the middle of Bristol and take ‘em on!” yelled McManus, referring to the street that borders the west side of the Mater Dei campus in Santa Ana.

Take it from someone who grew up a couple of traffic lights away Mater Dei, there have been plenty of wild battles on that asphalt. Why not a football one, too?


• The Division 1 championship game has been Mater Dei vs. St. John Bosco for six of the past seven years. Some say that’s too much Monarchs-Braves in what is CIF Southern Section’s marquee event every season.

But the CIF Southern Section has 13 other 11-player championships this season, and two 8-man championship divisions.

When Mission Viejo and Servite play each other Saturday in the CIF-SS Division 2 final, those players won’t care if they are playing for the Division 2 championship or the Division 1 championship or the Division 100 championship.

Although Corona del Mar lost in the Division 4 final Friday night, the Sea Kings took a Division 1 attitude into the game. And El Dorado will celebrate like it won the Super Bowl if it beats Mayfair in the Division 7 final Saturday.

• As for the Division 1 game being played at the Coliseum, perhaps drawing criticism that such an elite venue is no place for a high school football game, Friday was not the first time the Southern Section’s top-division football final has been played at a big place. Last year’s Division 1 final was at the Rose Bowl. And the first time a CIF-SS football championship game was played at the Coliseum was 100 years ago – yes, 1923 when Long Beach Poly beat Glendale 15-8.

• Sometimes a crowd like the 11,622 announced attendees Friday looks bad in a venue as big as The Coliseum. The empty seats can swallow the energy.

The players of course don’t care. How cool is it 20 years later to be at the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl or Angel Stadium or Dodger Stadium, and lean toward your son and say “I played on that field.”

• Mater Dei was the superior team on the Coliseum field on Friday. Would the Monarchs be the superior team the next time they played St. John Bosco, or would it be Bosco’s turn again?

There’s only one way to find out. And sorry, Northern California. Despite all of your charms, you’re not invited.

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