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Fryer: Early interception by Mater Dei was pivotal play in win over St. John Bosco

SANTA ANA — St. John Bosco was on the move.

The Braves had stopped Mater Dei’s game-opening possession, forcing the Monarchs to punt in Friday’s Trinity League game at Santa Ana Stadium.

St. John Bosco’s first play after the punt was a Cameron Jones run for 15 yards. A Pierce Clarkson pass to Israel Polk added another 16 yards. A couple of plays later, Clarkson threw to the end zone, the pass intended for DeAndre Moore.

The Monarchs had ace cornerback Zebien Brown assigned to cover Moore. Brown was in front of Moore when the ball arrived.

“I looked up a little bit late,” Brown said. “I trusted my eyes. I came back with it and once (the ball) there I turned into a receiver.”

Brown made the catch for the drive-ending interception.

“That was huge,” Mater Dei defensive coordinator Eric Johnson said, “because they were driving the ball down. I think that was the biggest play of the game.”

Brown and the rest of the Monarchs defense held St. John Bosco to one touchdown in Mater Dei’s 17-7 win.

The interception was made in the end zone. Brown perhaps was overcome by exuberance and decided to run the ball out of the end zone. He was tackled at the Monarchs 1-yard line.

It didn’t hurt the Monarchs. They traveled 99 yards on 14 plays and scored a touchdown on a 9-yard run by quarterback Elijah Brown for a 7-0 lead.

It was an unusually low-scoring game for the Braves-Monarchs rivalry, even lower than their CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship game in 2018 that was a 17-13 win for Mater Dei.

Johnson figured Brown would be a key to the game’s outcome.

“We put Zebien on No. 3 (Moore) because we think No. 3’s big time,” Johnson said.

Johnson was among the Monarchs coaches and players whose postgame conversation included discussion of a potential St. John Bosco-Mater Dei sequel. The teams are favored to be in the CIF-SS Division 1 championship game Nov. 25 at the Rose Bowl.

Until then, Friday’s game stands as a humongous win for Mater Dei.

“We definitely had to prove ourselves to ourselves,” Zebien Brown said. “It means a lot.”


Mater Dei’s Elijah Brown completed his first five passes and finished 11 for 18 (61%) for 119 yards. He went into the game with a completion percentage of 69. And the most important statistic of all: Brown now is 24-0 as the Mater Dei starter. …

The win is the 336th of Bruce Rollinson’s coaching career that began in 1989 at Mater Dei. He is second on the Orange County football career wins list, behind Bob Johnson, who accumulated 338 wins, mostly at El Toro and Mission Viejo with a few at Los Amigos. Johnson took a few years away from coaching in the 1990s to watch his sons, Bret and Rob, play college and pro football. …

Rollinson, 73, said he is leaning toward coaching Mater Dei in 2023. Mater Dei president Michael Brennan wants Rollinson to continue in that role. If given the opportunity, Rollinson will do what he thinks is best for the school, which has always been his top priority. …

Tickets were made available to the general public Monday at 9 a.m. They were gone by 9:04. Capacity at Santa Ana Stadium is said to be 10,000. There had been talk that the game, Mater Dei’s home game, would be played at SoFi Stadium, home of the Chargers and Rams. St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro said an effort would be made to have next year’s Mater Dei-St. John Bosco game — Bosco’s home game — at SoFi. …

Among the college football coaches in attendance was USC head coach Lincoln Riley. And you know it’s a big game when a congressman shows up. Lou Correa, U.S. representative for the 46th congressional district, was on the Mater Dei sideline during the game.

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