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Mater Dei sharp, but Alemany wins Air Strike title
DANA POINT - Mater Dei's football team played with a familiar, upbeat bounce at the Air Strike passing tournament Saturday.
The Monarchs hope it's a sign that they can bounce back when the games start this fall.
Mater Dei reached a third consecutive Air Strike final but fell to receiver-loaded Alemany of Mission Hills, 28-12, at Dana Hills.
The Monarchs missed the playoffs last season — a rare occurrence for the Trinity League school — but offered plenty of competitive fire at the 16-team tournament Saturday.
Mater Dei handed defending Pac-5 Division and state Division 1 bowl champion Santa Margarita its first passing defeat this offseason, 33-21, in the quarterfinals. The Monarchs beat Mission Viejo, 34-19, in the semifinals.
“Guys don’t have their heads down about last year,” Mater Dei senior-to-be wide receiver/linebacker Thomas Duarte said. “Today, we came together a lot and we grew as a team. I’m real happy.”
Mater Dei got strong contributions from Duarte, quarterback Ryan McMahon and corners Jonathan Lockett and Treavon Coley.
A mention of Mater Dei's victory against Santa Margarita brought a smile to Duarte's face. He caught the first touchdown. Linebacker JC Genova returned an interception -- off a deflection -- for a touchdown to give the Monarchs a 13-0 lead.
Santa Margarita and quarterback Johnny Stanton answered by knotting the score, 13-13. But Duarte gave the Monarchs the lead for good by catching a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone from McMahon. Duarte made the catch a few plays after making a grab near the end zone and having Santa Margarita safety Connor O'Brien land on him in a collison of Pac-12 recruits.
On the ensuring possession after the score, Duarte interceped Stanton.
"That was a good one," Duarte said of the victory. "This team depends on me big and I don't want to let them down. I come through for them, just like they would do for me."
In the semifinals, Duarte caught the first two TDs to help the Monarchs open a 14-6 lead against Mission Viejo.
An interception by Coley later set up McMahon's touchdown to wide receiver Jameson Field. Mater Dei eventually led, 28-6.
Mater Dei struggled against Alemany, a first-year entry loaded with receivers. The Pac-5 team featured two wide outs - Steven Mitchell and Devin Ross - with numerous Division 1 offers and an impressive sophomore-to-be, Desean Holmes.
Holmes caught a long touchdown on the first play and Mater Dei chased the rest of the way. Mater Dei never caught Alemany but left Dana Hills feeling positive.
"My focus this year is more on the team and our efforts on our daily practice and in the weight room," Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said. "I felt last year everyone talked about our passing league season, which didn't translate into anything in the regular season.
"But I think we took some strides in unity (today). We're not there yet but there's a lot of positives. I think we had 12 picks (on defense). ... I thought in the last game (against Alemany), we lost a little bit of our energy. We lost a little bit of our swagger, but that's OK.
"Everything that happened in that game is correctable. We've just got to keep working on the details."
Mater Dei finished second to Long Beach Poly in the tournament last year. The Monarchs won the event in 2010.
"We played well," Alemany coach Dean Harrington said. "It really doesn't mean a darn thing (for the regular season).We just want to compete."