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NORWALK — A troubling trend emerged early for St. John Bosco in the CIF-SS Division 1 football final Saturday. The Braves again quickly fell behind against rival Mater Dei.
But St. John Bosco didn’t stay stuck there in the duel of the top-two ranked teams in the nation.
Clemson-committed quarterback DJ Uiagalelei helped the No. 2 Braves rally from a 23-point deficit in the first half to stun top-ranked Mater Dei 39-34 before a crowd of 9,933 at Cerritos College.
The Braves trailed 28-5 in the first half but took a 32-28 lead early in the fourth quarter on an 11-yard TD reception by Logan Loya.
The former Orange Lutheran star wide receiver added a leaping 26-yard catch with 8:52 left in the fourth quarter as the Braves sprinted past the two-time defending national champion Monarchs, who beat them in the past two CIF-SS Division 1 finals.
St. John Bosco scored 39 unanswered points before Mater Dei scored with 5:38 left in the fourth quarter to cut the Braves’ lead to 39-34.
Loya’s go-ahead score capitalized on a spectacular interception by sophomore defensive end Nathan Burrell, who jumped to deflect a pass by Alabama-committed quarterback Bryce Young deep in Mater Dei territory.
Mater Dei led 28-12 at halftime and forced the Braves to chase them most of the night.
Uiagalelei was up for the challenge. He tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Kris Hutson late in the first half and a 16-yarder in the third to the senior to trim the Mater Dei’s lead to 28-19.
Later in the third, Uiagalelei tossed a 25-yard TD to tight end Adam Awaida.
The Monarchs’ fast start followed the script from their 38-24 victory at St. John Bosco on Oct. 25.
On the third play from scrimmage, Young threw deep to a wide open Quincy Craig for a 68-yard touchdown.
Craig, a sophomore running back, lined up in the slot and almost repeated the 50-yard touchdown reception by a wide open Kody Epps about two minutes into the teams’ league encounter.
The Monarchs quickly added on to their lead. After forcing a quick punt, Marceese Yetts took the return 32 yards to the Braves 35. Three plays later, Young tossed a 6-yard touchdown to a leaping Kyron Ware-Hudson in the back corner of the end zone to make it 14-0.
In just six plays, Mater Dei scored two touchdowns.
St. John Bosco appeared to settle down later in the first quarter. The Braves drove for a 33-yard field goal by Loya and recorded a safety against Young to cut Mater Dei’s lead to 14-5.
Burrell pressured Young in the end zone into a desperation throw that was flagged for intentional grounding with 5:04 left in the opening period.
Burrell’s safety offered St. John Bosco some consolation because it appeared to headed toward a touchdown moments earlier. Sophomore Rayshon Luke made a nice catch along the sideline and made a slick move on a 50-yard gain before Mater Dei safety Nate White recovered a fumble at the Monarchs 6.
Mater Dei forced another fumble early in the second quarter. Defensive line Tyler Narayan recovered a fumble at his 19 and the Monarchs drove for a 29-yard touchdown pass from Young to Cristian Dixon.
Later in the second, Mater Dei’s defense and Yetts combined again to put the Monarchs in position for another touchdown. The Monarchs forced a punt that Yetts returned 20 yards to the Braves’ 47. After a late hit on the return, Young found CJ Williams for a 21-yard touchdown pass to open a 28-5 lead.