Mater Dei loses to powerhouse Sierra Canyon in Open Division boys basketball final

  • Mater Dei’s Wilhelm Breidenbach is forced to passs by Sierra Canyon’s defense during the CIF-SS Open Division championship game at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach on Friday, February 28, 2020. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Mater Dei’s Devin Askew pushes past Sierra Canyon’s defense and scores two during the CIF-SS Open Division championship game at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach on Friday, February 28, 2020. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

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  • Mater Dei’s Devin Askew scores two during the CIF-SS Open Division championship game against Sierra Canyon at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach on Friday, February 28, 2020. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

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LONG BEACH — Mater Dei needed to shoot well to beat Sierra Canyon but did not and lost to the Trailblazers 59-48 in the CIF-Southern Section Open Division boys basketball championship game Friday at the Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State.

Mater Dei (25-7) was 17 for 47 from the floor, for 36 percent. The Monarchs were 5 for 21 on 3-pointers, for 24 percent.

“Our 3-point shots didn’t fall,” said Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight, “and we needed them to fall to have an opportunity.”

Wilhelm Breidenbach was Mater Dei’s best and most consistent player Friday. Breidenbach, a 6-foot-9 junior, had team highs of 18 points and 14 rebounds with two blocked shots. Junior point guard Devin Askew, who is committed to Kentucky, scored 15 points but also committed six turnovers against Sierra Canyon’s quick, ball-hawking defense.

Ziaire Williams, a 6-8 senior forward, led Sierra Canyon (28-4) with 23 points. Williams, a transfer from Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks who had to sit out the first half of the season because of transfer rules, was 8 for 16 from the floor and made both of his 3-point attempts.

Williams, who has Stanford and USC among his top choices so far, can shoot, jump and handle the ball.

“He can play anywhere,” marveled McKnight.

Senior 6-6 guard BJ Boston, a Kentucky signee, scored 16 points with a team-high nine rebounds for the Trailblazers.

The season continues for both teams next week with the CIF Southern California Regionals. The brackets for the regionals will be released Sunday. All eight Open Division teams automatically qualified for the state tournament.

Mater Dei trailed 46-39 going into the fourth quarter. The Monarchs scored only two points through the first four-and-a-half minutes of the fourth, greatly reducing their chance for a rally.

The first half followed expectations: Sierra Canyon tried to accelerate the pace while Mater Dei leaned on its half-court offense, with plenty of passes, screens and cuts.

Sierra Canyon never trailed in the first half. The Trailblazers scored seven of the game’s first nine points. The Monarchs caught up 13-13 on a 3-pointer by 6-10 junior Harrison Hornery. Boston responded with a 3 and the Trailblazers had a 16-13 lead at quarter’s end.

Williams opened the second quarter with a steal and dunk and did the same moments later to push the Sierra Canyon lead to 27-22. Breidenbach made two deep 3s in the quarter to keep the Monarchs close. Sierra Canyon had a 33-27 lead at halftime.

Mater Dei made 10 of 23 first-half shots, for 44 percent. The Monarchs were not effective on 3-point tries in the first half, going 3 for 11. Take away Breidenbach’s 2-for-3 on 3-points shots and the rest of the team was 1 for 8 behind the arc.

Sierra Canyon was 13 for 28 from the floor in the half, for 46 percent, and was 3 for 5 on 3-pointers. The Trailblazers made only three first-half turnovers to Mater Dei’s six.

Mater Dei lost to Sierra Canyon 83-73 in last year’s CIF Southern California Regionals Open Division championship game. In the 2018 CIF-SS Open Division final, Mater Dei beat Sierra Canyon 55-53 at the Pyramid.

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Fryer on Football: Forget Division 1, all of the excitement is in the lower divisions


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Sunny Hills linebacker Carson Irons had the ball and a question.

“‘What is this? This has never happened to me before,’” Irons said after his game-clinching interception Friday in the Lancers’ 31-27 win over Trabuco Hills in a CIF-Southern Section Division 8 semifinal football game.

“And then I realized that was the game,” Irons said. “It’s crazy.”

Orange County teams had some crazy finishes, including that one, in Friday’s semifinals.

San Juan Hills went for two points in overtime and got them to beat top-seeded Paramount 29-28.

Cypress beat top-seeded and previously undefeated Serrano 26-21 in the Division 7 semifinals. Isaac Hurtado, Orange County’s best running back, is a good defensive player, too. He tackled Serrano quarterback Parker Chaffee on fourth down in the final seconds to preserve the win.

In a Division 13 semifinal, Esperanza receiver Roshawn Lacy scored on a trick play with 14 seconds left, and running back Walter Gooding ran in the 2-point conversion to give Esperanza a victory over previously undefeated Inglewood.

Marina went all the way out to Hemet for a 27-7 win that put the Vikings in their first CIF-SS football championship game.

And in Division 1, the division with nationally-ranked teams all over the bracket, the games were comparatively boring.

The idea behind making Division 1 an eight-team division in the CIF-SS playoffs was to eliminate the one-sided games often seen in the division’s first round.

It did not work.

Top-seeded Mater Dei has won its two Division 1 playoff games by an average margin of 33 points. Second-seeded St. John Bosco advanced to the championship game with two wins that had an average margin of 47 points.

Centennial of Corona got to the semifinals with a 56-0 win over JSerra in the quarterfinals. The one competitive game of the six Division 1 games was Mission Viejo’s 38-35 win over Servite in the quarterfinals.

Mater Dei and St. John Bosco meet for the third year in a row in the CIF-SS Division 1 final Saturday at Cerritos College. Mater Dei beat St. John Bosco in the Division 1 championship game in 2018 and ’17.

Other CIF-SS division finals can be played at the home teams’ regular sites on Friday, Nov. 29 and Saturday, Nov. 30.

Orange County teams with championship home games are Corona del Mar, Cypress and Marina.

Corona del Mar plays its home games at Davidson Field on the Newport Harbor High grounds. Cypress plays home games at Handel Stadium at Western High. Marina plays home games at Boswell Stadium at Westminster High.

The CIF-SS office can move those games to other locations if it is believed crowds for the games will be too large for those venues. But all three of those stadiums likely will be considered adequate to hold championship games.

Division 1 this coming week will draw the most attention. It should. Mater Dei and St. John Bosco have the best players in Southern California and they play a sophisticated and hard-hitting brand of football. The quarterbacks, St. John Bosco’s DJ Uiagalelei and Mater Dei’s Bryce Young, alone are worth watching or setting up the DVR for.

Yet, from what we’ve seen in these playoffs, Mater Dei-St. John Bosco might be a dull game. If the semifinals are indicative of what’s to come, the best CIF-SS championship games will take place in the lower divisions.

Maybe more of those crazy finishes are coming up this week.

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Fryer on football: The force was with Mater Dei again


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The sound system at St. John Bosco’s Panish Family Stadium played “The Imperial March” from “Stars Wars” when Mater Dei’s offense took the field to start the second quarter.

Approriate enough. Empirical evidence shows that Mater Dei is Southern California high school football’s empire.

The force was on Mater Dei’s side when it beat St. John Bosco 38-24 on Friday night.

The Monarchs look like they’re on their way to a third straight CIF-Southern Section Division 1 championship and a third straight state championship. The people who bestow national championships just might have to give one to Mater Dei for a third straight year.

Mater Dei is No. 1 in every poll – local, statewide and national – and is 9-0 going into its final game of the regular season against JSerra on Friday, Nov. 1. Then it’s one week off before going into the CIF-SS Division 1 playoffs that will have an eight-team bracket. The Monarchs will be seeded No. 1 and St. John Bosco will probably at the other half of the bracket as the No. 2 seed.

Mater Dei linebacker Dean Neeley talks about the Monarchs’ 38-24 win over St. John Bosco and the fun of watching Bryce Young play quarterback @MDFootball @ocvarsity pic.twitter.com/bmxoFGAJJS

— Steve Fryer (@SteveFryer) October 26, 2019

Friday’s win was not as clean as Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson would have preferred. Rollinson, in his 31st season as the head coach of his alma mater, told the players during the week there were three keys to victory.

“I talk to them about minimizing the penalties, taking advantage of opportunities and staying together,” Rollinson said. “They stayed together but they forgot about my other two keys.”

The Monarchs were penalized 16 times for 160 yards. Some of the penalties extended Bosco drives, others limited or curtailed Mater Dei offensive opportunities. Mater Dei went into the game averaging 119 penalty yards a game, but that has not sent them into the loss column.

Rollinson credited Mater Dei offensive coordinator Dave Money and defensive coordinator Eric Johnson and the rest of the coaching corps for their hours of preparation, and praised the players for making the game plan effective.

Mater Dei QB Bryce Young talks about the 38-24 win over St. John Bosco and his competition against Bosco QB DJ Uigalelei (Young committed to Alabama, Uiagalelei to Clemson @MDFootball @ocvarsity pic.twitter.com/AsVitdIpIF

— Steve Fryer (@SteveFryer) October 26, 2019

“And,” Rollinson said, “what do you say about Bryce Young?”

You say that the Monarchs senior quarterback was impressive again. Young, who committed to Alabama, calmly completed 19 of 33 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns and ran for two touchdowns. He is given plenty of freedom to change play calls.

Rollinson said there were more than 20 plays Friday where Young changed the selected play, including pass protections that usually are an offensive lineman’s call.

“You talk about confidence,” Rollinson said. “He never gets down and never gets too high emotionally.

“And he just executes the game plan with precision.”

One might say he executed it with light-saber precision.

Extra points

• It wasn’t the biggest game Friday night for the general high school football public. But for Fountain Valley and Edison folks, the annual Battle for the Bell was the biggest game of the night and of the year, as it always is. Edison won 56-7 — 49 points is the largest margin in the history of the series — to win the Bell Game for the 16th year in a row and lead the series 36-14-1.

• In another rivalry game, Corona del Mar beat Newport Harbor 56-17 in their annual Battle of the Bay. Corona del Mar has defeated Newport Harbor seven games in a row.

Marina beat previously undefeated Segerstrom 25-14 on Friday to clinch a share of the Big 4 League championship. It is the Vikings’ first football league title since 1986, well before the current Marina players were born and probably before most of their parents met, too.

• Mission Viejo got its revenge. Having lost to San Clemente last year, a game that gave San Clemente the South Coast League championship, the Diablos on Friday beat San Clemente 38-6. Mission Viejo clinched at least a share of its 10th league title over the past 11 seasons.

• Orange County has five undefeated teams, all at 9-0: Corona del Mar, Cypress, Foothill, Mater Dei and Mission Viejo.

• Cypress is 9-0 and rolling and its roster recently got better. Buddha Asoau is a senior defensive lineman/fullback who has joined the Centurions after some delay getting settled in at school and his new residence. At 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, Asoau is pretty good at blasting open holes for Cypress ace running back Isaac Hurtado who rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns Thursday in the Centurions’ 32-15 win over Tustin. That victory clinched for them at least a share of the Empire League championship.

• Santa Margarita is going through a rough patch. The Eagles’ 27-0 loss to Servite on Thursday was their second shutout loss in a row and the previous week’s 45-0 loss to Mater Dei was the first time Santa Margarita had been shut out in 171 games. Santa Margarita first-year coach Brent Vieselmeyer has a rebuilding project on his hands, but with his previous experience helping make Orange Lutheran a power as an assistant coach in the early 2000s he has construction skills.

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Fryer on football: System takes San Clemente out of Division 1 bracket, and that’s not bad

The CIF-SS office on Friday announced its process for selecting the teams that will go into its elite Division 1 bracket that will be an eight-team bracket.

It looks bad for San Clemente. The process does not favor San Clemente getting selected to the Division 1 playoffs.

But, come to think of it, it looks good for San Clemente

Here is the process for selecting the eight teams that will be in the Division 1 playoffs …

Teams will receive points for where they are in the final Division 1 and 2 poll. The No. 1 team gets 10 points, the No. 2 team gets nine points, the No. 3 team eight points and so on down to one point for the No. 10 team.

Teams also get one point for each win over another team that is in the CIF-SS Divisions 1 and 2 group, and one point for being a league champion.

San Clemente defeated four Division 1 teams in nonleague play. But all four are CIF-San Diego Section teams, so San Clemente gets no points for those wins.

One could evaluate that as a bad situation for San Clemente, getting credited no points for those wins against good teams.

Or one could evaluate that as a good situation for San Clemente because it is unlikely that San Clemente at regular-season’s end would have enough points to get selected to Division 1.

Instead, San Clemente, 8-1 overall after a 36-14 win Friday over Capistrano Valley, is pretty much assured of going into the Division 2 bracket where the Tritons’ chances of success are far greater than they would be in Division 1.

In last year’s Division 1 playoffs San Clemente in the first round beat Murrieta Valley 49-26. Murrieta Valley will be in the Division 2 playoffs this season.

In last year’s Division 1 quarterfinals San Clemente lost to St. John Bosco 56-6. St. John Bosco again will be in the Division 1 playoffs this season.

Playing all of those San Diego County teams just might have worked out really well of San Clemente.

Extra points

• San Clemente, 3-0 in the South Coast League, plays at Mission Viejo (2-0) next Friday. Mission Viejo had a bye last week so the Diablos should come in fresh and ready … fresh from the break and ready because of the additional time to game-plan for San clement.

• Mater Dei vs. St. John Bosco on Friday, Oct. 25 at St. John Bosco, will be the game of the week not only locally but in the nation as the teams are 1-2 in many national rankings. The game will be televised live by Prime Ticket. If you insist upon dealing with the parking headaches and general madness, tickets can be purchased at the schools’ websites, materdei.org and bosco.org.

• Mater Dei is the favorite in that one. The first place to look for guidance is how Mater Dei and St. John Bosco fared against their common opponent, Servite. St. John Bosco beat Servite by one point; Mater Dei beat Servite by 45 points.

• And it’s not just that common opponents data that makes Mater Dei the favorite. Mater Dei’s offense is unstoppable.

• La Habra senior Kris Koontz returned the opening kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown in the Highlanders’ 49-7 win over Sunny Hills. It was his first kickoff return for a touchdown at any level of football.

• Clark Phillips III is known for his outstanding tight coverage as one of California’s top cornerbacks. He is a much more physical player than his scouting report suggests. The La Habra senior’s very minor flaw, one that he will eliminate when he gets to Ohio State next fall, is that he needs to get better at wrapping up on tackles instead of relying upon his ability to just blast into people and knock them down.

• O.C. football has a great group of senior quarterbacks with Mater Dei’s Bryce Young, Corona del Mar’s Ethan Garbers and La Habra’s Ryan Zanelli at the top off the stack. Picking the first- and second-team All-Orange County quarterbacks will not be easy.

• Newport Harbor took its first defeat of 2019 with a 44-3 loss to Los Alamitos in a Sunset League game. The Sailors finish the regular season with league games against Corona del Mar and Edison. They well could finish as the league’s No. 4 team and thus could only get into the CIF-SS Division 9 playoffs as an at-large team … and there might not be room for at-large teams in Division 9 that has 25 teams vying for its 16 playoff berths.

• Orange had a 61-0 halftime lead in its 61-14 win over Estancia.

• Of the 15 high school football games I’ve covered this season, the team with the most penalty yardage was the winner of 14 of those games.

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Fryer: This Mater Dei team may be better than its 2017, 2018 teams that were national champs


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Mater Dei was crowned high school football’s national champions in 2017 and 2018.

This year’s Mater Dei team might be better than both of those two teams.

The Monarchs dominated the game from start to finish Friday in a 56-11 win over Servite before a big, vocal crowd of around 8,000 at Santa Ana Stadium.

In that game Mater Dei flexed its many strengths.

You’ve read or heard that “the game slows down” for athletes as they mature. That description fits Mater Dei’s Alabama-committed quarterback Bryce Young. Whereas last season Young danced around in the pocket some or would take off on a run as the pocket collapsed, Young now calmly watches as a play’s opportunities develop, and that’s why the senior’s completion percentage is at 74.

Quarterbacks are looked to as leaders. Young last season was a junior who had transferred to Mater Dei after spending his freshman and sophomore years at Cathedral of Los Angeles. Junior quarterbacks new to a roster sometimes lack the gravitas to take on a leadership position, but now Young is a seasoned and accepted senior leader.

The Monarchs might lack that spectacular receiver they had a couple of seasons ago when Amon-Ra St. Brown, who is now at USC, was catching touchdown passes for them. But this year’s group, led by Kody Epps, gets open and catches the ball. Against Servite it looked like at least two Mater Dei receivers were open on every pass play.

Mater Dei has another one of those big, strong offensive lines the Monarchs have in their finest seasons. It’s a superb pass-protect unit.

The Monarchs are very fast on defense, especially in the backfield. Servite receiver Zedikiah Centers, one of the Friars’ top playmakers, had zero catches with senior cornerback Nate White leading the coverage.

The best Mater Dei defenses have a steady anchor at linebacker. That linebacker this season is senior Dean Neeley, the Monarchs’ leading tackler snagged a fumbled football in mid-air Friday and ran 40 yards with it for a touchdown.

And the Monarchs are solid on special teams.

Mater Dei football coach Bruce Rollinson talks about the 56-11 win over Servite and how important it is to him to beat Servite ⁦@ocvarsity⁩ ⁦@MDFootballpic.twitter.com/wTekefc5Ww

— Steve Fryer (@SteveFryer) October 12, 2019

Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson summarized the Monarchs and their dominating performance against Servite: “Our defense tonight, man, they were just running and hitting. And our offensive line, and Bryce Young is wheeling and dealing out there. Our receivers catch any ball that is even remotely close, and tonight (Young) was pinpoint.”

Last year Mater Dei lost to St. John Bosco in a Trinity League game and beat Bosco in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 championship game.

The Monarchs play St. John Bosco on Oct. 25 at St. John Bosco. They will probably play Bosco again in the Division 1 championship game.

If Mater Dei plays like it did against Servite, and as it has all season, this year Mater Dei goes 2-0 against St. John Bosco.

Extra points

• There has been bad blood between the Mater Dei and Servite football programs in the past, even back when Rollinson was playing for Mater Dei in the 1960s. That bad blood, stirred up between the respective coaching staffs at the end of last year’s Mater Dei-Servite game won by Mater Dei 35-0, was noticeable again Friday night. There were eight penalties for 98 yards for Servite on Friday, and 20 penalties for 235 yards for Mater Dei with a few personal fouls in the mix for both. “There were some issues that had to be addressed,” Rollinson said after Friday’s game, “and you remember last year — it wasn’t a good situation, and now it’s over and done with.”

• For Mater Dei’s current players, St. John Bosco is the team’s big rival. For people who have been in and around the Mater Dei football program since before Mater Dei’s players of today were born, Servite remains the big rival. “Coach ‘Rollo’ isn’t a huge fan of Servite,” Young said. “We knew that. On Saturday we talked about it and he said, ‘I need this one for us (the coaching staff) and for the seniors, and when Rollo asks for one, we have to have his back.”

• The Mater Dei and Servite student sections, as expected, went at each other during Friday’s game. Mater Dei’s student section chanted, “We’ve got girls!” To which Servite’s student section replied, “Those aren’t girls!”

• Tustin is on a roll. After starting the season 0-2, the Tillers have won four of five and are 4-3 overall 2-0 in the Empire League after a 44-6 league win over Crean Lutheran on Friday. Crean Lutheran is trying to hang in there while suiting up around only 20 players a game. Crean (3-4, 0-2) has been outscored 99-6 in its two league games and next week plays Cypress (7-0, 2-0), which is averaging 36 points a game.

• Mission Viejo has cranked up its offense. The Diablos have scored 56 points or more in four of the past five weeks, including South Coast League wins of 56-0 over El Toro two weeks ago and 63-13 over Capistrano Valley on Friday. The Diablos have a bye next week before playing at home against San Clemente, which beat Mission Viejo last season.

• Cypress and Mission Viejo (8-0) among the six remaining undefeated teams in Orange County. The others: Foothill (7-0), Mater Dei (7-0), Newport Harbor (7-0) and Segerstrom (7-0).

• Western’s streak of shutout wins ended at six games. Western beat Artesia of Lakewood 34-23 on Thursday, the first time the Pioneers have allowed an opponent to score in double figures. Slackers!

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Fryer on football: Servite standouts are sophomores now, just wait until they’re seniors


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One word stands out when reviewing Servite’s near-upset of St. John Bosco on Friday night.

The word: sophomores.

Servite sophomore quarterback Noah Fifita threw three touchdown passes, two of them to sophomore Tetaroia McMillan. Sophomore Jacob Manu blocked a punt that sophomore Houston Thomas returned 29 yards for a touchdown.

St. John Bosco, No. 2 in all sorts of national rankings that have Mater Dei at No. 1, prevailed 27-26 in the Trinity League game at Orange Coast College. Servite missed two extra-point kicks in its attempt at an upset that would have had a national impact.

Servite coach Troy Thomas, in his second season of his second tenure as the school’s coach, has a knack for getting players to believe they can beat teams that nobody else thinks they can beat. That happened in 2005, the first season of his first tenure when Servite upset Long Beach Poly in the second round of the playoffs.

After Friday’s game Thomas said, “(we) have to win games like this to be relevant in the Trinity League … ”

It looks like Servite is relevant now in the Trinity League, and should be even more so in two years when those sophomores are seniors.

Extra points

• If St. John Bosco was looking ahead to its Oct. 25 home game against Mater Dei, Mater Dei certainly was in one-game-at-a-time mode Friday. The Monarchs took care of their business with a 51-14 win over Orange Lutheran in their Trinity League opener.  The same could be said for JSerra with its 35-3 win over Santa Margarita in its league opener.

• The most perplexing teams this season are Los Alamitos and Villa Park. Our Orange County preseason top 10 had Villa Park at No. 6 and Los Alamitos at No. 7. Villa Park is 2-4 after its 21-7 nonleague loss to Foothill on Thursday and Los Alamitos is 1-5 after its Sunset League-opening 42-21 loss to Edison on Friday.

• Los Alamitos and Villa Park have outstanding athletes but neither team has that cohesiveness you see in the better teams. It’s a telling sign when players celebrate their touchdowns like their team is ahead by a bunch of  points when the scoreboard shows their team is trailing by a bunch of points. Los Alamitos and Villa Park each have four games left, plenty of time to construct a solid team framework and turn their seasons around.

• The most improved team in Orange County might be Esperanza. After three straight 1-9 seasons, the Aztecs are 5-1 after beating El Modena 31-28. The Aztecs likely will get some votes Monday in the O.C. top 25 media poll after the win over No. 25 El Modena.

• Going back to our O.C. preseason top 10 … here is what it was: 1. Mater Dei; 2. JSerra; 3. Mission Viejo; 4. Corona del Mar; 5. Servite; 6. Villa Park; 7. Los Alamitos; 8. La Habra; 9. Orange Lutheran; 10. Tesoro. Our synopsis of Tesoro started with: “Edison, San Clemente and Santa Margarita were among candidates considered for the No. 10 position.”

• Western (5-1) shut out Garden Grove 35-0 on Thursday for its fifth straight shutout. Orange County football records do not exist for consecutive shutouts. The O.C. single-season record for shutouts is nine established by Villa Park in 1981.

• Of the Western twin brothers, Caine and Cassius Savage, Caine is the better high school football player and Cassius looks like the brother who could be the superior college football player. Cassius is, at 6-2, two inches taller than Caine and that might make him better suited for the matchups they will encounter in college, whether they are playing receiver or cornerback at the next level.

• This was the first week of eligibility for transfers who had to sit out the first half of the football season. Among the transfers who got their first game experience of 2019 was Western senior running back/linebacker Robbie Sauvao who is from Hawaii where he played some quarterback. At 6-3 and 225, Sauvao gives Western the interior running weapon they had lacked.

• Edison senior receiver Cole Koffler had a nice Friday evening. He caught a touchdown pass, his team-leading sixth of the season, and at halftime, in his football uniform, he was named homecoming king.

• Rancho Alamitos looks set to go undefeated in the Garden Grove League after its 21-10 win over the league’s other top contender, Loara, in a league opener Friday.

• Portola has its first class of seniors, and it looks like they are going to establish a high standard for the ensuing senior classes to follow. The Bulldogs beat Beckman 27-10 on Friday in their Pacific Coast League opener, making Portola the favorite to win the league championship.

• Dana Hills’ 28-27 overtime loss to Laguna Hills and Tesoro’s 44-28 loss to San Clemente reduces the number of undefeated football teams in Orange County to nine. They are Calvary Chapel, Corona del Mar, Cypress, Foothill, Mater Dei, Mission Viejo, Newport Harbor, Segerstrom and St. Margaret’s.

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Fryer on football: Two nights, two games, four teams show why high school football is alive and well


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Sometimes it seems that high school football is a dying sport.

The number of high school kids playing football has been dropping in California and elsewhere. Concussions are a concern. The growth of elite programs that are more like college teams than high school teams is not a great development, and neither is the number of high-profile transfers.

Then, on back-to-back nights in recent days, proof arrived that high school football is going to be OK.

Corona del Mar beat San Clemente 42-21 on Thursday at Newport Harbor High, Corona del Mar’s home field. Corona del Mar is like the San Diego Chargers of the early 1980s when the offense was called “Air Coryell,” named for Coach Don Coryell who installed an exciting and innovative passing game.

Corona del Mar’s smooth quarterback, Ethan Garbers, threw for 376 yards and four touchdowns. He has a great assortment of receivers, including John Humphreys, a Stanford commit, and the under-recruited Bradley Schlom (all he does is get open and catch the football … you know, maybe a couple of colleges can use a guy like that) and big, quick, sure-handed tight end Mark Redman.

Humphreys is the most un-coverable receiver in Orange County.


Four San Clemente defenders try to stop Corona del Mar wide receiver John Humphreys in Newport Beach on Thursday, September 26, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei has a great group of defensive backs, but line any of them up against Humphreys and the big (6-5, 205), fast Humphreys is going to win the battle for the football. The way Humphreys uses his body to screen out a defensive back when the ball is in flight is reminiscent of how Tony Gonzalez did that when Gonzalez was a tight end at Huntington Beach in the early 1990s.

It’s no coincidence that Gonzalez and Humphreys have been good on the basketball court, too.

After the game, though, is when you can see how special the game is to the Corona del Mar and San Clemente players. They played for their team, their school and each other.

As good as their athletes are, the togetherness of the players might really be Corona del Mar’s strong suit. Those long postgame hugs only happen when all of the time in the weight room, in the film room and on the practice pays off with a big win like it Thursday.

If San Clemente’s players felt they were in over their heads trying to match touchdowns with Corona del Mar, they did not show it, as the Tritons’ pride would not allow quarterback Nick Billoups and his teammates to let up. That “one-town-one-team” mantra in San Clemente football is not fake.

Cypress beat Capistrano Valley 42-28 on Friday at Western High, Cypress’ home field. Cypress has an intriguing mix of speed and physicality. The Centurions are going to be 10-0 when the regular season ends and are going to make a run at the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 championship.

Like the better teams, Cypress has that brotherhood that one finds in football perhaps more than in any other sport. It’s a high-sacrifice sport, with the lifting, the long hours of practice under the hot summer sun and the verbal, um, “motivation” at which football coaches seem to be so much more creative than other sports’ coaches.

Cypress running back Isaac Hurtado, who rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns and turned a screen pass into a multi-tackle-breaking, go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, was crying after the game. He tweaked his surgically-repaired knee in the second half, but that was not the source of the tears.

Cypress had lost to Capistrano Valley last season and in 2017. Hurtado, a senior, was overcome by the emotion of finally getting a win over the Cougars.

Capistrano Valley trailed in Friday’s game 28-0. The Cougars rallied to tie it before Hurtado, the dominant player of the first half, resumed his dominance in the fourth quarter. Capistrano Valley was getting out-hit and out-everything’d in the first half, but the Cougars’ pride kicked in and they made a stunning comeback in the second half to make it a great game.

The Cougars, led by quarterback Dartanyon Moussiaux and receivers Jack Haley and Brady Kasper, almost made that comeback a comeback win. They must have been bitterly disappointed when the game was over.

But when Capistrano Valley coach Sean Curtis finished his postgame talk to the Cougars players, they gathered in a tight huddle, raised their helmets and yelled “Capo!” with the energy of a team that had won the game.

They had given everything they had for their team, their school and each other.

Yes, high school football is going to be OK.

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Fryer on football: They are not in the top 25, but maybe they deserve to be (or maybe not)

We know it’s coming.

“We belong in the top 25!”

Nine teams that were not in this week’s Orange County football top 25 poll can put up plausible or semi-plausible arguments, bolstered by wins Friday, as to why they should be in the next top 25 that comes out Monday. Of course, they need teams in the bottom rungs of the top 25 to falter, thus opening a door or two.

We hear such plausible and semi-plausible arguments every season. This coming week we expect more people will tell us the five media members who vote for the weekly poll are messing up if they don’t get (fill in the name of the underrated, unloved team here) into the O.C. top 25.

Let’s take a look at them, these top 25 candidates, these “Next Seven” teams, in alphabetical order …

Beckman: The Patriots are 3-1, having defeated Ocean View (also 3-1) two weeks ago, and then took their bye last week. Their only loss was to Foothill, which was No. 23 in last week’s poll … and Foothill on Friday beat No. 14 Yorba Linda. Still, there is not enough on Beckman’s resume to warrant a top-25 vote.

Top 25? No.

Brea Olinda: The Wildcats (3-1) lost to Sunny Hills, which is not a top 25-caliber team although Sunny Hills spent a couple of weeks in the lower rungs of the O.C. poll. They beat Valencia and Fullerton, which are going to be in the playoffs. Brea has a nonleague game coming up against Yorba Linda, and a league game coming up against Foothill.

Top 25? Maybe later.

Calvary Chapel: The undefeated Eagles (4-0), who were 1-9 last year, are have a refreshing taste of success. They have played Division 13 and 14 teams. While there’s nothing wrong with beating teams of your ilk, that’s not a top-25 level of competition.

Top 25? No.

Dana Hills: The Dolphins (5-0) are the only team to have defeated Laguna Beach and Northwood. They have an All-County candidate defensive lineman, Liam Boersma, who leads a good defense. We will get a better idea about how good Dana Hills truly is when it gets to Sea View League games in which they play Aliso Niguel and San Juan Hills.

Top 25? Maybe later.

Esperanza: The Aztecs (3-1) lived in the top 10 for a couple of decades, until Yorba Linda High opened and siphoned off some of the talent pool. Their loss was to Katella, which spent the first couple of weeks in the top 25, But there are no wins yet that would make one certain that Esperanza is a top-25 team.

Top 25? No.

Katella: This looked like a team that would be in the top 25 all season after they Knights (4-1) beat Valencia in their season opener. They lost to Marina, which probably will be their only loss of the regular season and they will probably take a 9-1 record into the the playoffs.

Top 25? Maybe later.

Marina: The Vikings (4-0) remained undefeated with a 34-14 win over Huntington Beach on Friday. It wasn’t that long ago that Marina rarely would beat Huntington Beach. Marina’s game in Week 5 against No. 24 El Modena will represent a good chance to bust into the top 25.

Top 25? Maybe later.

Extra points:

• Villa Park is 0-3 against teams in the O.C. top 5 after a 48-9 loss to Servite on Friday. The Spartans have been outscored 170-16 in those three losses. If Villa Park wins another Crestview League championship and goes deep into the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 playoffs, both very attainable goals, then the Spartans might look back at the three one-sided losses as games that got them ready for the high levels of competition they could encounter in the later rounds of Division 4.

Servite football coach Troy Thomas has on the team a sophomore defensive back named Houston Thomas who made a couple of fine tackles and broke up at least one pass Friday in a 48-9 win over Villa Park ⁦@ocvarsity⁩ ⁦@ServiteFootball⁩ ⁦@ServiteHSpic.twitter.com/inojTfo72j

— Steve Fryer (@SteveFryer) September 21, 2019

• Houston Thomas’ father, Troy, is the football head coach at Servite, but the reason why Houston, a sophomore, is starting in the defensive backfield for the Friars is that he is good enough to start. “He’s a hard-working kid and he cares,” said Troy Thomas who, smiling, added, “He wants dad to be successful.”

• We had a difficult time figuring out just how good San Clemente was through the Tritons’ first four wins because all of those wins were against San Diego County teams, and we just don’t have a good feel for the quality of that county’s teams. San Clemente proved that its 5-0 record is legitimate, having defeated a tough and talented Edison team 28-21 on Friday.

• St. Margaret’s is 4-0. The Tartans picked up a win when it was ruled that Vista had to forfeit its win over St. Margaret’s because Vista used an ineligible player in that game.

• Even with Tesoro head coach Matt Poston unavailable Friday for a 20-3 win over San Juan Hills because of heart surgery this week, the Titans’ coaching staff designed a fine game plan. Too bad the Tesoro coaching staff can’t redesign the Tesoro High School parking lot, which is the most-difficult-to-escape parking lot among the county’s high schools. Getting out of the Dodger Stadium parking lot is like a luge ride compared to exiting the Tesoro lot.

• And, look … we just completed an examination of Orange County high school football without mentioning “Mater Dei” one time! Uh … wait a minute …

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Fryer: A few surprises among the Orange County football teams off to 3-0 starts


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Everybody expected Mater Dei to start this football season 3-0.

Not many would have forecast a 3-0 start for Newport Harbor. Or Dana Hills. Or Fullerton, or Calvary Chapel. Orange County football has other 3-0 teams, but those four were not among the ones expected to be at 3-0.

But here they are, off to great starts …

Newport Harbor: The Sailors on Friday got their most impressive win of 2019, a 24-14 victory over Aliso Niguel. When Newport Harbor was always in the Orange County top 10 the Sailors won with defense and a solid running game. The Sailors forced six turnovers and had two players, Cole Lavin and Justin McCoy, who surpassed 100 rushing yards against Aliso Niguel.

Dana Hills: The Dolphins are 3-0 for the first time in 15 years. It’s good to see a program that’s been down so long have success.

Calvary Chapel: The Eagles got to 3-0 with a 40-14 win Thursday over Capistrano Valley Christian. With two very winnable games coming up, look for them to be 5-0 when they open Orange Coast League play against Estancia.

Fullerton: The previous wins over Santa Fe and Whittier did not grab attention, but the 40-33 win Friday over Canyon does. It’s been said that Sunny Hills is the Freeway League’s second-best team after La Habra. Maybe it’s actually Fullerton and running back Arthur Shaw who rushed for 269 yards and five touchdowns against Canyon.

Extra points:

• Mater Dei of course is 3-0. The Monarchs have dominated through the three games, averaging 59 points a game. They beat Centennial of Peoria, the No. 4 ranked team in Arizona, 71-21 on Friday.

• On the flip side … Los Alamitos, a 20-14 loser to Long Beach Poly on Friday, is the best 0-3 team in county football.

• Having now observed the top three teams in the Orange County top 25 – in order, Mater Dei, JSerra and Mission Viejo – that order looks correct. Mater Dei is way ahead of JSerra whereas JSerra and Mission Viejo are tight. JSerra looked superior to Mission Viejo offensively; Mission Viejo looks superior to JSerra defensively … but not by as much of a margin as JSerra appears superior to Mission Viejo offensively.

• Mater Dei was in Arizona on Friday to play a game, JSerra had its first home game Friday after playing in Utah and San Diego, Servite is in Las Vegas to play Bishop Gorman on Saturday and Santa Margarita played Friday in Colorado. Trinity League teams wouldn’t have to take such trips if more Southern California teams would be willing to play them. Of course, when you look at the score of Villa Park’s loss last week to Mater Dei, 63-7, it’s easy to see that Southern California teams might want no part of that.

• The ending of Dana Hills’ 50-7 win Thursday over Saddleback was smelly – a long touchdown pass by the Dolphins that followed a timeout. Please, never call time out to run a play when you’re up by 37 points with 14 seconds to go. So what that you’ve got 12 guys on the field and that’s why you called the timeout to avoid the inconsequential penalty, because a 44-7 win should suffice.

• St. Margaret’s 30-22 win over La Mirada on Friday is noteworthy. Although La Mirada was 2-9 last year, it is ranked No. 10 in Division 4 this season. It’s also a larger public school and a good challenge for St. Margaret’s, which has a bye next week before playing a road game Sept. 20 against El Toro.

• Katella went 10-0 in the regular season last year and it’s likely the Knights will do the same this year. They have defeated Valencia, Westminster and Esperanza by an average margin of 25 points. Katella’s next game, on Friday, Sept. 13 against Marina at Glover Stadium, will be the Knights’ most severe test before they get to Orange League games.

• Coming up next week (all Friday): Villa Park at Mission Viejo; San Juan Hills vs. Edison at Huntington Beach High; Narbonne of Harbor City vs. Orange Lutheran at Orange Coast College; Yorba Linda at Capistrano Valley; El Modena at Fullerton; La Habra at Calabasas; Sunny Hills at Brea Olinda; Rancho Alamitos at Garden Grove; Laguna Beach at Dana Hills; and Beckman at Ocean View.

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Fryer on football: Cypress’ Isaac Hurtado is back, and for real this time

A new football season brings new opportunities for the people who play the game.

Cypress senior running back Isaac Hurtado is excelling with his new opportunities.


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He rushed for 261 yards and two touchdowns and had two receiving touchdowns Friday in the Centurions’ 48-7 win over Santa Ana in a Week 1 nonleague game.

In Cypress’ season opener, a 28-9 win over Peninsula of Rolling Hills Estates, Hurtado rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown.

Hurtado (6-4, 220) tore an ACL in the first round of the 2017 playoffs.


Cypress senior Isaac Hurtado rushed for 261 yards and two TDs and scored two TDs on receptions in the Centurions’ victory over Santa Ana on Friday, Aug. 30. (Photo by Lou Ponsi)

“He came back in time for league last year,” said Cypress coach Rick Feldman. “He was good enough to be named the (Empire League) offensive player of the year. But he was not the same.

“In February I asked Isaac, ‘Is there something wrong with you?’ Turns out he had a bone growth under his knee cap. He got that cleared out and now he is what he is again.”

Extra points

• Santa Margarita was limited to 20 yards of total offense in a 21-10 loss to Mission Viejo on Friday. The school’s previous low in varsity football was 97 yards in 1994 in a game against Trabuco Hills.

• Mission Viejo coach Chad Johnson tells people the Diablos’ defensive line is the best in Orange County. The play of that line in the win over Santa Margarita supported his case. The foursome of Micah Carreon, Lance Keneley, Logan Schwenke and Keanu Tauvasa led the charge Friday.

• In all three games I’ve covered this season a team has amassed 96 or more yards in penalties. And all three of those teams won the game.

• There are a lot of players who seem to be wearing shorts instead of over-the-knee football pants. It is a rule that football pants must extend over the kneecap. But as Orange County assignor of football officials Paul Caldera explained, if the pants are over the knee at the start of a play and then creep up during the play, the officials won’t make a fuss.

• A Yorba Linda win over Valencia was expected. The score, 42-0, was not.

• Valencia is 0-2. In 2016 Valencia went 0-5 in nonleague games then went 4-1 in the Empire League to win a share of the league championship.

• It was said during the summer that Foothill would be better this season. That appears to be accurate. The Knights are 2-0 after wins over Coronado of Henderson, Nev., and Tustin 28-14 on Friday.

• Coaches sometimes describe their early-season nonleague games as “preseason” games. “Preseason” implies “before the season.” But nonleague games are part of the season and are part of the regular-season schedule.

• Mission Viejo at La Habra on Friday is the best game on the schedule for Week 2. Other top matchups are Orange at Yorba Linda (Thursday), Orange Lutheran-Edison at Orange Coast College (Friday) and Villa Park at Trabuco Hills (Friday).

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