Orange County’s biggest high school football rivalry took center stage at Angel Stadium in front of a raucous crowd on Oct. 23, for the 55th annual meeting between No. 1 Mater Dei and No. 6 Servite. Mater Dei’s defense was in the spotlight as the Monarchs took the victory for the fourth year in a row over their rival, 42-10.
Both teams entered their third Trinity League game of the season with a 1-1 record, coming off losses in their previous games, the Monarchs losing 42-21 to league powerhouse St. John Bosco and the Friars experiencing a last-second loss at the hands of Orange Lutheran, 37-36.
With playoff implications on the line for both teams, the offense on each side came out sputtering, as the first quarter ended with Mater Dei leading, 7-3.
But the Monarchs defense took control of the game in the second quarter, forcing two key turnovers by the Friars. Mater Dei junior defensive back Roman Kafentzis intercepted a pass from Servite senior quarterback Aaron Simpson (who has been signal calling for the Friars in place of injured junior Tyler Lytle) and ran it back 62 yards for a touchdown, putting Mater Dei up 14-3.
The Monarchs defense followed up with a fumble recovery, as Mater Dei senior linebacker Jedediah Smith picked up a dropped ball by Servite senior Samuel Duarte for a 38-yard run. Mater Dei senior running back Brandon LaMarche made the six-yard run for the touchdown, putting the Monarchs up 21-3.
Mater Dei freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels closed out the second quarter with a seven-yard touchdown run of his own, and the Monarchs headed into the locker room at halftime with a 28-3 lead over the Friars.
“When it’s all said and done, tonight was about our defense,” said Mater Dei varsity head coach Bruce Rollinson. “I challenged our defense right before we came out. I said, ‘We’re going to ride your back, baby. Whichever way you take us.’ And that’s exactly what they did.”
Servite showed a bit of life at the start of the third quarter, as senior Keyon Riley scored the Friars’ only touchdown of the game on a 97-yard kickoff return, making the score 28-10.
But that would be the last time the Monarchs defense would let their rival score. Mater Dei tacked on an additional 14 points, as Daniels connected with sophomore wide receiver Nikko Remigio in the fourth quarter for a 20-yard touchdown pass to make it 35-10. In the final minutes of the game, senior wide receiver Andrew Strader caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Daniels to close out the scoring for the Monarchs with a final score of 42-10.
Simpson completed 19 of 39 pass attempts for a total of 126 yards on the night. But the Monarchs kept the Friars’ quarterback to just 32 yards on 11 attempts in the ground game.
Daniels had a total of 170 passing yards on 13 of 22 attempts, and LaMarche rushed for 160 yards on 22 carries, 130 of those yards coming in the first half alone.
“There [are] a lot of mixed emotions that go into this game,” said LaMarche of the intensity behind the rivalry between the two schools. “We came out at the half stalled a little bit, but we…started playing our brand of football again, which is good.
“Coach Rollinson always puts a lot of pressure on us seniors, so I came out wanting to make an impact somehow. All the credit goes to my offensive line. I can’t do it without them,” said LaMarche. “Hopefully we can keep it rolling the rest of the season.”
Rollinson said he felt that coming off the loss in the previous week to St. John Bosco, his team rebounded well, including his young offense (freshman quarterback, six sophomore offensive players), which responded well to playing in such an emotional game on the big stage.
“We had a good preparation week. My coaches worked extremely hard game-planning,” said Rollinson. “We came out with a lot of energy. They knew the importance of the game.
“Early on, you could see they were pressing, and rightfully so,” said Rollinson of the Monarchs’ slow offensive start. “When we had a little comfort, their confidence was back. Once it settled in, I thought they really responded.”
The Mater Dei head coach is keeping his Monarchs focused on the goal of a playoff berth, without looking too far ahead.
“We control our destiny,” said Rollinson. “What we’re trying to approach it as is one week at a time.”