Orange County: Credibility is on the line for Mater Dei and San Clemente

Back in the 1990s, Mater Dei and San Clemente were in the South Coast League together, and the Tritons were one of the last teams to score a league victory over MD during that era. But once Mater Dei was moved into a parochial league, San Clemente didn't have much to do with the private schools. Until now.

Mater Dei has been the benchmark in OC football, but this season the Monarchs have lost twice to tough opponents. Now comes a third opponent, and the proud program is looking at 0-3. Or are they?

“Even though we might be ranked ahead of Mater Dei now, Mater Dei is very dangerous,” said San Clemente coach Eric Patton. “It's like playing a cornered animal, they're desperate for a win, and they're better than their record is showing. This is not something that is a wing and a prayer for us. We look forward to having a great game with Mater Dei, and we're very respectful of what they've done.”

Ah, but what have they done lately? Last week Mater Dei suffered one of its worst losses in the Bruce Rollinson era, which dates back to 1989, giving up the first 44 points in a 44-13 loss to Corona Centennial. Despite having quarterback Max Wittek and receiver Victor Blackwell – both committed to USC – the Monarchs have scored only one offensive touchdown, and that came against Centennial's reserves. But Mater Dei is Mater Dei, and the Monarchs will show up and try to break out of their funk, and that's going to put a lot of pressure on San Clemente.

“I think we play some really good football at San Clemente and we want to show people what we can do,” Patton said. “There is some pressure on us that way . . . We're going to go out and have some fun with it. It's a big game, the kind you like to play.”

The Tritons (4-0) have been one of the solid programs in Orange County for more than a decade, but they have not been among the elite programs. This year, with 6-foot-6 junior quarterback Travis Wilson getting better with each performance, and a back in junior Nick Pasquale who can run the fly sweep extremely well, they might belong among the upper echelon, but they will have to beat Mater Dei to prove it, and that's what makes this contest so intriguing: Despite a 4-0 record, a credibility problem ensues unless it takes care of business in its home stadium on Friday.

Both teams really, really need this victory.

“It's a big game for this team and this year, and it's going to say a lot about us,” Patton said. “We'll have other opportunities – we have games against Mission Viejo, Newport Harbor, Tesoro, Dana Hills – but there is something about this game. Mater Dei does have a certain mystique.”