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    Dan Albano’s 5 questions that are key to Mater Dei football’s game vs. St. John Bosco
    • October 12, 2023

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    Dan Albano’s biggest questions for Mater Dei in its showdown against St. John Bosco on Friday:

    1. Can Mater Dei’s defense continue to dominate?

    Mater Dei has produced some outstanding defenses over the years but this 2023 version is making a case that it’s one of the best.

    Here’s one statistic that shows the unit’s dominance: 43 points allowed.

    Yes, Mater Dei has technically allowed only 43 points, or 6.1 points per game during its 7-0 start. But remember, Centennial of Corona returned an interception for a touchdown against the Monarchs in the season opener, and Bingham of Utah returned a kickoff for a score the next week. Those touchdowns weren’t against the defense so one could argue that the Monarchs’ defense has allowed only 29 points or 4.1 points.

    The defense also hasn’t allowed any points the past nine quarters.

    JSerra quarterback Michael Tollefson, left, is sacked by Mater Dei in a Trinity League football game in Santa Ana on Friday, October 6, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

    Mater Dei’s unit is built on speed and aggressiveness, the latter of which often surfaces with one-on-one coverage in the secondary and blitzing.

    The key for Mater Dei’s defense will be handling St. John Bosco’s running game led by UCLA commit Cameron Jones, an imposing 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior who has averaged 134.5 yards per game rushing in two Trinity League games.

    The Braves certainly noticed that Centennial Corona’s Cornell Hatcher rushed for 105 yards against the Monarchs in the season opener.

    2. Will Mater Dei’s defense force any turnovers?

    OK, it might seem like Mater Dei could be asking a lot from its defense but forcing turnovers has been one of the unit’s trademarks in recent league games against the Braves.

    In the 2021 game played in the spring, the Monarchs forced a key fumble and grabbed two interceptions in 34-17 win. And last season, they collected two more interceptions in a 17-7 triumph.

    The game between those two — in the fall of 2021 — was largely decided by a five-TD performance by Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown.

    RELATED:“>Fryer’s preview and prediction for Mater Dei vs. St. John Bosco

    3. Will Mater Dei’s Elijah Brown raise his game once again vs. the Braves?

    Mater Dei senior quarterback Elijah Brown is 3-0 against St. John Bosco in league games with 585 yards, nine touchdown and zero interceptions.

    Mater Dei doesn’t need another massive performance from Brown to win but it would certainly take some pressure off the ground attack and defense if his mastery against the Braves in league continues.

    Quarterback play, of course, is always pivotal.

    In the two games that Mater Dei and St. John Bosco struggled in this season, neither quarterback threw a touchdown.

    Brown was blanked in the Monarchs’ 20-7 victory at St. Frances of Baltimore, Md. while Sanchez was shutout in a 30-23 loss at Kahuku of Hawaii.

    4. Will two of Mater Dei’s top seniors play?

    Last week in a 42-0 victory against JSerra, Texas-committed offensive tackle Brandon Baker and Alabama-committed cornerback Zabien Brown didn’t appear to start for Mater Dei.

    One of the Monarchs’ strength is its depth. Sophomore Jeremiah Ponce started at right tackle for Baker while Chuck McDonald started at corner for Brown.

    Mater Dei offensive tackle Brandon Baker (73) at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana on Thursday, July 6, 2023. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    But Friday is the biggest game of the regular season, so it’s worth monitoring whether Baker or Brown play.

    They’ve been first-team All-County players, and Brown intercepted a pass against St. John Bosco last season in league.

    5. How will Mater Dei handle the role of favorite while playing its first game in the rivalry under coach Frank McManus?

    The weight of Coach Bruce Rollinson’s final game, including an emotional sendoff at Santa Ana Stadium in the semifinals, seemed to catch up with Mater Dei on the Rose Bowl grass last season in the CIF-SS Division 1 final. The Monarchs just couldn’t finish at the end in a 24-22 loss against St. John Bosco.

    The Braves’ late defensive stand certainly played a major factor.

    Mater Dei is loaded with players driven to make amends for that loss but they need to first navigate Friday on the road as the favorite.

    The Monarchs, ranked No. 1 in the nation by multiple polls, need stay focused from the coaching staff to the players.

    Mater Dei coach Frank McManus during a nonleague football opener game against Centennial in Corona on Friday, Aug 18, 2023. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

    First-year coach Frank McManus has coached in the rivalry as an assistant but now takes on veteran St. John Bosco coach Jason Negro, who has enjoyed his share of success against Mater Dei.

    In the season opener, veteran Centennial Corona coach Matt Logan played his up-tempo style but added a few trick plays, especially on special teams. Mater Dei still won, and should take this one, but how will the night go emotionally for the Orange County juggernaut?

    Yes, the Monarchs have been ultra-focused under McManus — especially on defense — but will they look tight or will they embrace the challenge of a big-game atmosphere.

    Elijah Brown, for one, can show them how to perform in the spotlight but Rollinson often exceled in these moments. Now, it’s an opportunity for this Mater Dei squad to show it’s mettle without the legendary coach.

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    ​ Orange County Register