MISSION VIEJO — Patrick Walsh paused for several seconds as he thought about how to respond. Standing on the Saddleback College field late Saturday night, the Serra coach was asked if he wanted to bring his team to the Open Division state championship game again next season.
Walsh’s Padres had just lost to St. John Bosco-Bellflower 45-0, an anticipated outcome even though Serra had won all 13 of its previous games this season and had a resume that included road victories over De La Salle and Folsom.
Bosco and its Trinity League rival, Mater Dei-Santa Ana, are not De La Salle and Folsom.
The Southern California superpowers have raised high school football to a level over the past six years that nobody in the state has come close to matching.
Last year, Mater Dei routed Serra 44-7 in the Open title game.
Saturday, Bosco led by 35 at halftime and added 10 more points in the third quarter before the final period was played with a running clock.
When Walsh finished pausing, the longtime coach said, “I like playing in a competitive world where it’s competitive. I said before this game, I do not feel that our coaching staff and our players could get into any better position than we are spiritually or emotionally than we were for this game. We were 13-0. We had overcome things. We believed. Our fans believed.
“And we lost by 45 points. Do I want to be back here again next year against a team like this? I mean, truthfully, I want to be in a game where we’re underdogs potentially and it’s hard to win. But it seems at this point doing this two years in a row now it’s almost like we have no chance.”
St. John Bosco linebacker Khmori House (6) tackles Serra Padres quarterback Maealiuaki Smith (7) forcing a fumble during the second quarter of the 2022 CIF State Football Championship Open Division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Walsh understands what some people, notably those who make similar comments about having to play the likes of Serra and De La Salle, are thinking.
“I get it,” he said.
Walsh has been on the winning side of many blowouts.
In the semifinals of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs this season, Serra led Salinas 50-7 at halftime, and the entire second half was played with a running clock.
Salinas was a good public school team.
When Walsh starred as a running back for De La Salle three decades ago, his senior class started the Concord school’s national-record 151-game winning streak.
De La Salle won many games against overmatched opponents.
Walsh is not a hypocrite on the topic.
“I have openly stated that I am OK with publics and privates being in separate championships,” Walsh said Saturday, repeating what he told the Bay Area News Group last year. “It seems like I haven’t been on that side. But I agree with that statement. What I am saying about Bosco people say about Serra and De La Salle and St. Francis.
“There is a solution. It’s just people have to put their heads together and come up with a solution. If there’s a private school champion and a public school champion, there’s more apples being compared to apples, I guess.”
But that still wouldn’t solve the Bosco and Mater Dei dilemma.
They’re private schools, too, but on a national level.
“They went private-private or something,” Walsh said, laughing. “We’d have to have another category.”
Walsh, who is friends with Bosco coach Jason Negro, was asked whether the Open Division state championship game was a good thing.
“It’s a good thing for two teams,” Walsh said. “Whoever represents the North is going to be behind the eight-ball. There is no doubt about it. I think a lot of the Southern California teams would feel the same way. I don’t want this to come across as sour grapes or they’re doing anything wrong because they’re not. I love coach Negro. But the reality of the situation is it seems as if Mater Dei and Bosco are just built differently than the rest of us.
“At some level, it’s not really comparing apples to apples. When they play each other, it’s comparing apples to apples. Maybe if they play IMG Academy or St. Frances of Baltimore, that’s comparing apples to apples. Maybe there’s some rule if you have 50 D-1 guys on your team, you play each other for the national championship or something like that.”
St. John Bosco’s Aaron Mikey Williams (4) dives into the end zone for a touchdown after intercepting a pass by Serra Padres quarterback Maealiuaki Smith (7) during the second quarter of the 2022 CIF State Football Championship Open Division game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Near the end of a 12-minute postgame session with reporters, Walsh circled back to an earlier question that caused him to pause.
“You asked me if I want to be here next year, it’s like I want to be the best we can be,” he said. “Whatever system they throw us in, I have no control over. I have no control over who we play once we get to the CCS and CIF.”
In Walsh’s playing days, there were no California Interscholastic Federation regional and state championships in football. The season ended at the sectional level.
He had no complaints.
“When I used to play, man, I’ll you what. The rain was coming down in the Oakland Coliseum in 1992 and we won the North Coast Section title and that was good enough for us,” Walsh said. “I have mixed emotions on the whole thing, to be honest with you, because it’s a lot of football and these are just kids. Finals are coming up. I have been doing this for a long time and I know people’s dreams and goals are to win the biggest, biggest, biggest prize. For us, it’s not really been the goal here at Serra. Our goal has always been to build an amazing culture of love and gratitude.
“And we did that. In my book, we’re state champs.”
— Darren Sabedra
Bosco coach on Walsh’s comments
The Los Angeles Times’ Luca Evans asked Negro to respond to Walsh’s comments that playing Bosco and Mater Dei was not “comparing apples to apples.”
“I’m going to pose it to you this way, and I think Patrick would understand this,” Negro said. “He was part of a De La Salle team that won 151 straight games, so I am not going to feel bad for anybody up north saying Bosco or Mater Dei or, you know, this legacy is going to go on forever, whatever.
“You know, they won 151 straight games. They’ve won how many straight Northern Division championships, and things like that? Nobody up north is going to feel bad for them. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to give us credit because what we’ve done is we’ve realized what we needed to do to be successful to knock off the De La Salles. To knock off the Mater Deis. To knock off any and all comers across the country.”
— Darren Sabedra
De La Salle: From joyous to heartbroken tears
The emotion was painful late Friday night.
De La Salle had come to Mission Viejo with an opportunity to send a senior class that had overcome injury after injury this season — players such as linemen Derek Thompson, Chase Tofaeono and Cooper Powers — out on top.
But their story didn’t end as they had hoped. It didn’t end as it had the previous week in the regionals at Folsom, with Thompson and his teammates hoisting a championship trophy.
It didn’t end with the Spartans capturing their eighth state championship and first in seven years.
Joyous tears were replaced by painful ones as De La Salle watched Lincoln celebrate a 33-28 victory that gave the San Diego school the Division 1-AA championship.
De La Salle’s Grant Wells (10) drops to the ground in dejection after being defeated by Lincoln during their 2022 CIF State Football Championship Division 1-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. Lincoln defeated De La Salle 33-28. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
As always, De La Salle coach Justin Alumbaugh was stoic and thoughtful afterward.
“There’s a lot of seniors on our team that literally gave all of themselves,” Alumbaugh said. “You’ve got guys playing with things that are not normal. I think there is some perspective. I think the thought needs to be about what it took to get here and the life lessons and the life bonds that those guys created.
“It’s a great group. They reinstilled a lot of culture for us. I am thankful for those seniors. To be honest, I am heartbroken for them. I thought with their effort they deserved to get that final victory. But we just came up a little short.”
— Darren Sabedra
San Ramon Valley: Heartbreaking loss, unforgettable experience
San Ramon Valley head coach Aaron Becker speaks to his players after being defeated by Granite Hill in overtime during their 2022 CIF State Football Championship Division 2-A game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. Granite Hill defeated San Ramon Valley 31-24 in overtime. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
One year after losing in the semifinals of the NCS playoffs, San Ramon Valley came within a few plays of capturing a state championship.
The Wolves lost to Granite Hills-El Cajon 31-24 in overtime at Saddleback College on Saturday in the 2-A final.
The loss hurt but the experience will be cherished.
Placed in one of the state’s five upper divisions, San Ramon Valley got to make the trip to Mission Viejo instead of playing host to a state final on Saturday night on its home field.
“It was pretty great,” coach Aaron Becker said. “It really was. We talked about it last night, that if we were one of the 3-AA games or below that we would have been hosting at home in the rain. This made it feel like it was going to be a really big game, which it is.”
Becker had a big-picture message for his team afterward.
“You just say when you make it this far you’re less than half a percent of the kids that play football in the state of California,” he said. “If you’re a good team. everybody but one team is going to lose their last game. If you’re not a good team, you didn’t make the playoffs, so oh well.”
— Darren Sabedra
Pittsburg: What Pirates are saying about retiring coach
Pittsburg head coach Vic Galli speaks to his players for the last time after being defeated by Liberty during the 2022 CIF State Football Championship Division 1-A game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. Galli is retiring after this season as head coach. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Victor Galli’s final game after 21 seasons as Pittsburg’s coach didn’t go as he and his team had wanted. The Pirates lost to Liberty-Bakersfield 48-20 in the 1-A title game Saturday.
Afterward, players and assistants spoke admirably about their retiring coach.
Quarterback Jaden Rashada, committed to Florida: “Vic has had a pretty heavy impact in the community. And you know what, he cares. He cares more for you as a person than as an athlete.”
Receiver Rashid Williams, committed to Washington: “It’s been amazing to be coached by the staff and coach Galli. It’s just been an honor to be up here and starting since my freshman year… We cherished the last week, and the last practice yesterday. It’s bittersweet, but it’s been a long ride and now it’s over, so college football is next.”
Defensive coordinator Charlie Ramirez: “The things that he’s done with this program over the past two decades is something that has been special because he connected the community with the football program. That connection that has been there for generations, he brought it back. With the collection of coaches he’s been able to put together, he’s been able to magnify that and take it to the next level.”
— Joseph Dycus
McClymonds: “We will be coming back here”
McClymonds’ Adon Dent (80) runs with the ball while being tackled by Mater Dei Catholic’s Chris Snyder (2) during the fourth quarter of the 2022 CIF State Football Championship Division 2-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. Mater Dei Catholic defeated McClymonds 26-18. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Tears ran down running back Jaivian Thomas’ face as he and his McClymonds teammates watched Mater Dei Catholic-Chula Vista hoist the 2-AA trophy on Friday evening.
The senior’s eyes were still misty when he emerged from a makeshift tent locker room more than 30 minutes after the game.
Instead of dwelling on the 26-18 loss, the McClymonds star who ran for 2,528 yards and 30 touchdowns reflected on what it meant to lead the Oakland powerhouse to Mission Viejo.
“Oakland is small, very small, so not many people look over there,” he said. “It’s big to represent it at the championship.”
John Tamale, a sophomore linebacker who shared Thomas’ hometown pride, is one of the players expected to take the mantle from Thomas and headline the next generation of McClymonds standouts.
“We just have to work harder to get ready for next year, because we will be coming back here,” Tamale said.
The work for next season starts soon.
“It’s not just about working in the hours that we have in school, because you have to put your own hours in to be champs,” said coach Michael Peters, who has led the program to six state championship games and four titles. “Championships are won in the offseason.”
— Joseph Dycus
Quick-hitters: State championship rewind
— Teams in the Bay Area News Group’s coverage area went 1-7 in state finals, including 0-7 over the weekend.
— Pinole Valley captured the only state title among BANG teams, beating Mendota 34-21 in the 7-AA championship game on Dec. 3.
— Five of the seven losses were by single digits.
— De La Salle dropped to 7-8 in state championship games, with losses in its past five.
— Serra is 1-4 in state title games.
— With its 28-27 loss to Laguna Hills in the 3-A final at San Jose City College, Bellarmine fell to 0-4 in state finals.
— Darren Sabedra