June 23, 2024

Knowing it was his last high school game, Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown used Saturday night’s CIF Open Division state championship bowl game as a final showcase of his immense talent. The Stanford commit threw touchdown passes to four receivers in leading the Monarchs to a 35-0 shutout of San Mateo Serra at Saddleback College.

It was Mater Dei’s fourth state bowl title since 2017 and it left no doubt which team is No. 1 in California this year.

A few hours after LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels was awarded the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football, Brown put on a performance that would make Daniels — who starred at Cajon High in San Bernardino — proud. Brown completed 17 of his 22 passes for 298 yards and zero interceptions. He sat out the last five minutes, his job done.

The four-year starter has added to the legacy of All-CIF signal-callers in the Santa Ana catholic school’s storied history — a list that includes Heisman Trophy winners John Huarte, Matt Leinart and Bryce Young — and will graduate with maybe the best resume of them all having thrown for 9,277 yards and 115 touchdowns and emerging victorious in 42 of 44 games with two Southern Section titles and two state bowl titles.

“It means a lot but it was a total team effort,” Brown said. “All of the hard work over the last four years has been worth it. This is what we came here to do.”

The Monarchs, who improved to 4-0 in state bowl competition and captured their first under Frank McManus, hired in February to fill the shoes of the retired Bruce Rollinson, who stepped down last December after a 47-year coaching career — the last 34 as head coach — at his alma mater.

Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown throws a pass in the first half gainst San Mateo Serra at Saddleback College.

Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown throws a pass in the first half gainst San Mateo Serra at Saddleback College.

(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

“It feels pretty good,” McManus said. “There were a few too many penalties but I’m proud of the boys. It was a long season but their preparation and dedication showed.”

Mater Dei built a 21-0 halftime lead despite being penalized 10 times for 80 yards, 30 more yards than Serra’s offensive output in the first half. By game’s end the Monarchs (13-1) had committed 16 penalties for 150 yards, but it hardly mattered because they limited Serra’s high-powered offense to 58 yards. Mater Dei finished with 386 yards and averaged nearly nine yards per play.

Brown threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mark Bowman to open the scoring with 4:56 left in the first quarter. On the Monarchs’ next possession, Brown hit Marcus Harris in stride down the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown that doubled the lead with 1:41 left in the first quarter.

Jonah Smith’s 12-yard touchdown reception made it 21-0 late in the second quarter.

Teddy Chung recovered an onside kick to open the second half for the Padres (12-1), but on the third play of their ensuing drive nose guard Tomu Topui recovered a fumble for Mater Dei, which took a 28-0 lead a few minutes later on Jordon Davison’s eight-yard run.

Brown’s fourth touchdown toss — a 31-yarder to Jack Ressler to open the fourth quarter — gave Mater Dei a commanding 35-0 and started a running clock.

Harris caught two passes for 117 yards, Marcus Brown had four catches for 80 yards and Smith had three receptions for 28 yards. Mater Dei’s defense registered three sacks while Semi Taulanga and Nasir Wyatt each made five tackles.

Mater Dei’s victory marks the seventh straight time the Southern California representative has won the Open Division title, which was added in 2008. Southern California schools hold a 9-8 edge in the highest division since the state bowls debuted in 2006 when there were only three divisions.

Serra was making its third consecutive appearance in the Open Division final, having lost last year to St. John Bosco 45-0 and to Mater Dei 44-7 in 2021 at the same venue. The Padres fell to 1-5 in state bowl games, having lost to Corona del Mar 35-27 in Division 1-A in 2019 and 42-40 to Sierra Canyon in Division 2-A in 2016. Their lone win was a 38-14 triumph over Cajon in Division 2-AA in 2017 at Sacramento State.

Receiver Jonah Smith celebrates a touchdown with Mater Dei teammates Jack Ressler (left) and Kayden Dixon-Wyatt.

Receiver Jonah Smith celebrates a touchdown with Mater Dei teammates Jack Ressler (left) and Kayden Dixon-Wyatt during the CIF Open Division state championship bowl game Saturday at Saddleback College.

(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

The total attendance for the day’s three bowls at Saddleback was 8,233.

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