Mater Dei vs. Servite in CIF-SS football championship game a monumental moment in storied rivalry

They have played against each other for bragging rights, for pride and for league championships.

But never, not since their football teams started playing against each other in 1961, have Mater Dei and Servite met to decide a CIF football championship.

That finally is happening Friday, as Mater Dei will take on Servite for the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach at 7:30 p.m. The stadium has a capacity of 11,600, but the game has been sold out since Tuesday morning.

Bally Sports West will televise the game live.

Mater Dei is 10-0 and No. 1 in MaxPreps’ national rankings. Servite is 10-2 and No. 2 in the Maxpreps rankings.

When they played each other in their annual Trinity League game on Oct. 23 at Santa Ana Stadium, Mater Dei won 46-37. It was Mater Dei’s 10th consecutive win over Servite. The Monarchs have a large lead in the series, 42-17-2.

Mater Dei defenders tackle Servite’s Houston Thomas (20) during a Trinity League game at Santa Ana Stadium in Santa Ana on Saturday, October 23, 2021. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei sophomore quarterback Elijah Brown was his usual steady self in the Oct. 23 game, completing 17 of 23 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown.

Brown (6-2, 185) this season has completed 137 of his 185 passes (74 percent) for 2,228 yards with 27 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Senior receiver C.J. Williams (6-2, 195), who committed to Notre Dame, had eight receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown against Servite. Williams is the Monarchs’ leading receiver with 43 catches for 721 yards and 11 touchdowns. [embedded content]

Another Monarchs offensive star against Servite was senior running back Raleek Brown (5-9, 185). He rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Brown this season has rushed for 900 yards and 11 touchdowns on 109 attempts.

Servite senior quarterback Noah Fifita was busy in the loss to Mater Dei. He put the ball in the air 41 times with 26 completions for 306 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Fifita (5-10), who committed to Arizona, this season has completed 193 of his 313 passes (62 percent) for 2,889 yards and 33 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.

Notre Dame-committed senior receiver Tetaiora McMillan leads the Friars with 80 receptions for 1,235 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was a force against Mater Dei, making 15 catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns. McMillan also plays defensive back and has a team-leading seven interceptions.

Servite senior running back Houston Thomas (5-7, 170) has rushed for 1,029 yards and 17 touchdowns on 168 carries.

Servite’s Noah Fifita (1) runs past Mater Dei defenders during a Trinity League game against Mater Dei at Santa Ana Stadium in Santa Ana on Saturday, October 23, 2021. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Contributing Photographer)

Servite’s offense generally has leaned toward passing the ball this season. Last week the Friars dramatically shifted to a run-heavy approach in their 40-21 win over St. John Bosco in the semifinals. Thomas had his best performance of the season, rushing for 128 yards and a touchdown. Fifita rushed for 136 yards and three touchdowns.

Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said that change in offensive tactics adds to the challenge of designing a defensive game plan this week. And not just that …

“Defensively, Servite is solid,” Rollinson said. “But you just have to get your guys ready. It’s Mater Dei football.”

The teams have plenty of defensive stars, too.

Mater Dei senior linebacker David Bailey (6-5, 225) has team highs of 13 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Bailey has offers from a variety of colleges including UCLA and USC.

Servite senior defensive lineman Mason Graham (6-4, 295) leads his team in sacks (14) and tackles for loss (21). Graham committed to Michigan.

Top-seeded Mater Dei opened the playoffs with a 49-14 win over Norco. The Monarchs last week defeated Centennial of Corona 21-16 in the semifinals. Servite beat Santa Margarita 34-3 in the first round before the semifinals win over St. John Bosco.

This week brought national attention to Mater Dei’s program after the Southern California News Group published a story about an incident in the football team’s locker room that left a player with a broken nose and a traumatic brain injury. The incident has raised questions about the culture within the program.

Servite coach Troy Thomas said the years of Friars vs. Monarchs football brings little mystery to Friday’s game.

“They’re pretty familiar to us,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be tough. Like Bosco, they have no weaknesses so you just have to play very sound football.”

Thomas said the win over St. John Bosco should add to Servite’s confidence against the Monarchs.

“I do know our kids are capable of it,” Thomas said. “We believe it can happen. That’s a big part of beating teams like this is believing you can.”

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