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Miller: Memories will outlast the final score
ANAHEIM – Should we start with the hit – Long Beach Poly's Jayon Brown emphatically cracking Mater Dei's Justin Allen helmet to facemask?
Or the catch – Mater Dei's Thomas Duarte looking over his left shoulder then adjusting to peek over his right, the ball in the air the whole time, for a ridiculous 47-yard fingertip reception?
Or the pick – Mater Dei's London Iakopo taking the ball off the foot of a Poly receiver for a straight-to-YouTube interception?
Or maybe we should just cut to the final score – Poly 35, Mater Dei 17 in a CIF-SS Pac-5 Division final that produced 48 minutes of highlights and a significantly greater total of moments.
Steve Fryer, a colleague at the Register, has a great perspective on these high school games. It goes something like this: No matter the result, no matter the significance, no matter the sport, some kid is going to do something he or she will remember forever.
That's what makes these games special – the memories, the snapshots that will live on indefinitely.
And that's important to remember today, particularly for the Mater Dei players, who just had their season wash up in the mist and muck at Angel Stadium, felled by a Poly team loaded with talent and hunger.
Given the program's tradition, no one's feeling sorry today for the Monarchs. That's not the point here. The point is to recognize that no matter how forgettable the feelings afterward, the moments during always will remain.
Think games like this one don't have an allure? That was USC's Matt Barkley, Khaled Holmes and Max Wittek – each a graduate of Mater Dei – standing on the Monarch sideline Saturday.
The moments started arriving just as quickly. On the game's second play, Poly's Manu Luuga was driven out of bounds so hard that he took out one of Fox Sports' cameramen.
On the very next snap, Poly's Vincent Mindoro blindsided Iakopo with a block that could have separated the poor kid from his eyebrows. Instead, Iakopo bounced right up.
These schools have a history, a respectful and gentlemanly history that captures high school sports at its essence.
Appropriately, that history also reads like a boxing rivalry. Over the past 30 years, Mater Dei and Poly have played each other 13 times. The Monarchs are now 6-6-1 in those games. So are the Jackrabbits.
The most recent meeting that had a CIF title awaiting the winner came in 1999. The game ended 21-21.
"It's like the football gods lined this up," Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said heading into Saturday, "to give everybody a heck of a football game."
Though it lacked the drama and suspense forecast, this game didn't want for individual accomplishment.
It took the Jackrabbits only 2:09 to produce the first touchdown. The score came on a 21-yard reception by Juju Smith, a junior of whom Poly coach Raul Lara recently told the Long Beach Press-Telegram, "If he does everything right, he's a shoo-in to be an NFL guy."
Poly scored on its next possession when Luuga turned a third down into a touchdown with a play that looked basic but produced dynamic results. The senior took the shotgun snap and simply ran left, not stopping until the goal line greeted him 71 yards later.
Mater Dei had the ball for nearly nine of the 12 minutes of the first quarter ... and trailed 14-0.
The Monarchs finally scored their first points on a 24-yard Timothy Strader field goal 53 seconds into the second quarter. One minute and one second later, after a 50-yard drive, Poly was up 21-3.
The momentum and hope Mater Dei desired was all but lost for good midway through the third quarter. That's when Poly's Matt Mitai sacked Chase Forrest, causing a fumble that Brown retuned 14 yards for a touchdown.
No, the theater of this game wasn't for all-time, the final quarter rendered mostly as mop-up after the Jackrabbits had opened a 25-point lead. But that doesn't mean there was little left to take away.
Late in the game, after Mater Dei had turned the ball over on downs, Duarte began heading for the Monarch bench when he encountered Poly's Iman Marshall.
For most of the night, Duarte had been wearing Marshall, a sophomore cornerback who attached himself to Mater Dei's big target and refused to let go.
The two exchanged a few words, pats on the shoulder and a fist bump. Then both trotted to their appropriate sidelines.
It was a show of respect, a display of shared appreciation and it was the perfect punctuation on a game that didn't end dramatically but sure left some memorable impressions in getting there.
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