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Being calm and grounded helps Mater Dei ease into the D1 final
COSTA MESA – Mater Dei’s aerial attack has been the star for much of the season. JT Daniels and Co. and have made a habit of torching opposing defenses and setting new records in the process.
It was the driving force in getting the Monarchs to Friday night’s semifinals.
But in the biggest game to date, Mater Dei went old school, pounding the football behind an offensive line that was mauling Rancho Cucamonga in the trenches.
Sophomore running back Shakobe Harper racked up 141 yards and three touchdowns behind the road graders up front, Raphael Jones Jr. ran for both of his scores and all 79 of his yards in the second half and top-seeded Mater Dei outmuscled the fifth-seeded Cougars, 48-21, in a CIF-SS Division 1 semifinal game in front of a packed house at Orange Coast College.
Mater Dei (13-0) will play rival St. John Bosco next Saturday in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. at Angel Stadium. The Monarchs edged out the Braves, 26-21, back in Week 8.
“These kids believe in each other,” Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said. “It was good to have adversity. Got a little nervous, I won’t lie to you. I wasn’t worried about the first score, but we forced that ball and that’s not like (Daniels). But these kids just don’t get down.”
The Monarchs faced their largest deficit of the season just seven-plus minutes into the first quarter, as Rancho Cucamonga (12-1) grabbed a 14-0 lead after a Jaylon Redd 42-yard touchdown catch and linebacker Roy Wiley’s 50-yard pick six.
“We just said, ‘Stay calm, stay positive,’ ” senior linebacker Roman Kafentzis explained. “With the Bosco game we went down at halftime. But we kept fighting, kept coming back at it. We didn’t give up and we got it done.”
The Monarchs defense held to Rancho Cucamonga to its second-lowest point total of the season, limiting the Cougars to one touchdown over the final three quarters. Redd was bottled up to just 24 yards on 16 carries, and was dropped in the backfield six times.
“I thought our defense was spectacular,” Rollinson added. “It’s an incredible effort by the defense. (Redd) is one of the best backs we’ve seen and we contained him.”
After going down by two touchdowns early, the Monarchs reeled off 27 unanswered points over the next two quarters. Harper scored on runs of 4 and 20 yards, and Amon-ra St. Brown caught a pair of back-shoulder lasers from Daniels to go up 27-14.
The Cougars would score on a 67-yard wide receiver pass midway through the third to cut the deficit to six points, but the Monarchs went on to score the final 21 points of the game on the ground.
“I’m glad our line came out here and did what they had to do,” Jones Jr. said. “We have such versatile receivers too, and without those guys blocking downfield, it wouldn’t have been as open as it was out there.”
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