Fryer: Not the prettiest Mater Dei-Servite football game, but still special

It wasn’t the smoothest Mater Dei-Servite football game. There were too many penalties for that.

But it was a heck of a battle, which is what a Mater Dei-Servite game should be.

It had what we’ve seen in these games for decades: the fierce, hand-to-hand combat along the interior lines, the body-slam tackles, the three-dimensional chess strategy match between the coaching staffs, and in Saturday night’s edition of the great rivalry an entertaining duel between a great receiver and a great cornerback.

And considering that not so long ago it looked like we might not have any high school football, Mater Dei vs. Servite or otherwise, being at this game, a 24-17 Mater Dei win at Santa Ana Stadium, was like getting an extra Christmas.

“What you saw tonight was a classic Mater Dei-Servite game,” said Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson who has coached in these games since the late 1980s and played in a couple of them in the 1960s. “Two great defenses going toe to toe. I knew (Servite’s) defense was good, but I tell you what, we’re pretty good up front. (Servite) had some nice schemes and as fast as we’d adjust they’d adjust.”

Although making those adjustments took up much of his concentration Rollinson still paid fan-like attention to the receiver-cornerback duel of Servite’s 6-foot-4 junior receiver, Tetairoa McMillan, and Mater Dei’s 6-2 cornerback, Domani Jackson.

“I thought the battle between Domani Jackson and ‘TMac’ was, ya know … that’s what you come to high school football games for,” Rollinson said.

Servite coach Troy Thomas of course was disappointed. Very few teams in California are capable of beating Mater Dei. Thomas knew that his team was one of those very few.

Thomas was pleased with the level of effort the Friars delivered Saturday and, like Rollinson, was grateful to again be involved in the great Mater Dei-Servite rivalry and coach in a game featuring outstanding athletes playing at the highest level of high school football in the nation. That is Trinity League football when it is at its best.

Too many Trinity League games have been one-sided the past couple of years, with a large gap between the teams in the top half of the league and its bottom half. Win or lose, Thomas would prefer more games like Saturday’s.

“This is how it should be, the wars that used to be in this league,” Thomas said. “These games. The Trinity League. That’s what’s fun about this league.”

Some thoughts on Mater Dei-Servite …

• Mater Dei-Servite games often have a ton of penalties in them. Saturday’s game was more of the same. The final numbers: Mater Dei 22 penalties for 201 yards and Servite eight penalties for 102 penalty yards. Rollinson would later say, “The penalties? I don’t know. What can I say? I think we might have set a world record.”

• A few of those Mater Dei penalties were pass interference calls on Monarchs defensive backs trying to keep McMillan from catching the ball. “TMac” as they call him is a great athlete. He was one of Servite’s better basketball players last season but with these seasons overlapping more than usual McMillan is exclusively playing football, which is where his sports future lies.

• The National Federation of High School Sports Associations makes the rules (with plenty of input from coaches etc.) for high school football. A rule that should be evaluated for possible change is that in high school football a pass interference penalty can be called even if the pass sails obviously out of reach of the receiver. Several of Saturday’s pass interference calls, most of them against Mater Dei, were uncatchable balls.

• McMillan’s second-quarter touchdown catch was a good example. Servite quarterback Noah Fifita, rolling out to his right, side-armed a fastball that McMillan caught at the Mater Dei 10-yard line where McMillan dodged one Mater Dei tackler then carried another the final 2 yards into the end zone that cut the Mater Dei lead to 14-10.

• Mater Dei junior defensive back Cameron Sidney was in the right place at the right time on the first play from scrimmage. Sidney did not have to move far to pick off Fifita’s throw, snagging the ball at the Servite 22-yard line and taking it into the end zone for a 7-0 Mater Dei lead only six seconds into the game.

• Mater Dei did not run its first offensive play until the 5:17 mark of the first quarter. On Servite’s post-interception possession a Friars punt bounced into the Mater Dei punt returner and Servite’s Jack Kane recovered it at the Mater Dei 37. The Friars then maneuvered to the Mater Dei 9 where the drive died, leaving Servite to get a 26-yard field goal by Cash McVay to trim the Monarchs lead to 7-3.

• That Sidney game-opening interception return for a touchdown could be considered the play of the game, given it was decided by one touchdown. Another big play happened late in the first half when Mater Dei was looking at fourth-and-3 at the Servite 41-yard line. Mater Dei freshman quarterback Elijah Brown passed to receiver CJ Williams for 39 yards and a first down at the Servite 2, and the next play running back Raleek Brown ran it in for a touchdown and a 21-10 lead that would be the biggest lead of the game.

• Servite running back Kyle Bandy was a busy guy. In the first half alone he had 18 carries for 70 yards. During one second-quarter possession Bandy carried the ball on eight consecutive plays.

• Servite’s wild student section, “The Asylum” as it is called, was at the game. Most chose semi-formal attire, which for “The Asylum” is a long-sleeved white dress shirt, untucked, with thin black tie. The guys did a fine job singing along to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” that was a hit before their parents met … or maybe before most of their parents were born.

• Raesjon Davis is the highly-rated linebacker at Mater Dei. The USC-signed senior deserves the attention. Just as impressive Saturday was Monarchs junior linebacker David Bailey (6-5, 226) who looked great in his season debut, having missed the Monarchs’ first games because of injury. He recorded two sacks.

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