If there were a Heisman Trophy for high school football, Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback Bryce Young would be the runaway winner. Whether passing, running or leading, Young is performing at such a high level that there’s few defenses capable of slowing him down.
In a much-hyped matchup of unbeaten teams on Friday night before a sold-out crowd of more than 5,000 at Bellflower St. John Bosco, the Alabama-bound Young toyed with the Braves, picking and choosing how best to make them feel uncomfortable, if not miserable.
He completed his first eight passes and finished 19 of 33 for 256 yards and three touchdowns in Mater Dei’s 38-24 victory that wraps up a Trinity League championship and No. 1 seed for the Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. He also ran for two touchdowns.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Mater Dei offensive coordinator Dave Money, who has tutored many of the school’s top quarterbacks during his tenure. “He’s one of the best we’ve ever had. He does not make poor decisions.”
With a quick release, much-improved arm strength and deceiving speed, Young has become the big difference maker who has helped separate the No. 1 Monarchs (9-0) from the No. 2 Braves (8-1). It looks good now that St. John Bosco held Young and the Monarchs to a mere 17 points in last year’s Division 1 final.
“Our line did an amazing job,” Young said.
Receiver Kody Epps became Young’s favorite target, making 11 receptions for 175 yards and touchdowns of 50, 11 and three yards.
“Kody Epps is on fire,” Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said.
Young also showed off his feet, breaking off runs of 27, 23 and 30 yards. And let’s talk about his poise. He was hit out of bounds by St. John Bosco’s JonJon Vaughns on a late hit that drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty in the first half. Young hardly reacted. “You know it’s part of football when you sign up,” Young said. “It’s going to be a physical game.”
When St. John Bosco recorded three sacks by Jarius Satele, Jalen Woods and Jordan Matthew during a second-quarter Mater Dei possession, the Braves probably thought they had found a weakness. But it was Young simply making sure he wasn’t going to risk a turnover.
Mater Dei held a 24-10 halftime lead and quickly expanded the lead to 31-10 on its opening drive of the third quarter that ended with an Epps three-yard touchdown reception. Marceese Yetts rushed for 96 yards for Mater Dei.
St. John Bosco quarterback DJ Uiagalelei started to adjust after a slow start and was able to begin getting the ball to his playmakers. Two lost fumbles hurt the Braves. Uiagalelei, a Clemson commit, showed his own poise in the fourth quarter, stepping up to complete a 48-yard touchdown pass to Kris Hutson under pressure. He had 312 yards passing and two touchdowns but an interception by Jaylin Davies at the one halted the comeback late in the fourth.
“Just another team, just another game,” was the message St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro told his players this week in preparation for meeting No. 1 Mater Dei.
Then how come the St. John Bosco band went through the hallways on Friday afternoon playing the school fight song? How come fans showed up four hours before kickoff for a tailgate party? How come tickets were on Craigslist selling for $300? How come as soon as the gates opened at 5:30 p.m., a Mater Dei fan broke into an all-out sprint to claim a bleacher seat? How come multiple camera crews were filming for Netflix’s 2020 version of “QB1: Beyond the Lights?”
In fact, it was No. 1 vs. No. 2 with a national television audience tuning in. The big question will be is this Mater Dei team better than the 2017 team, led by JT Daniels, that went 15-0? The answer is no for now, because the Monarchs still have a penalty problem. They had 16 penalties for 160. yards. During one first half possession, the Monarchs picked up two holding calls, roughing the passer and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
This was one of the most hyped football games in recent Southern California history, comparable to Long Beach Poly vs. Concord De La Salle in 2001 and St. John Bosco vs. De La Salle in 2013. The matchups of quarterbacks headed to Alabama and Clemson, respectively, the ranking of No. 1 vs. No. 2 nationally, the fact 3,000 tickets sold out in less than 24 hours and were being offered for $300 apiece on the web _ it all raised expectations for a matchup that could be repeated in the Division 1 final on Nov. 30.
As for an immediate impact, winning the Trinity League championship means a No. 1 seed for the Division 1 playoffs and the reward to miss playing Corona Centennial in the semifinals of the eight-team tournament that will be announced Nov. 3.