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Friday, October 29, 2010
Orange County: No. 1 Servite 21, No. 12 Mater Dei 14

By Martin Henderson

ANAHEIM – It was a moment that came out of nowhere. Servite's struggling offense that had bogged down time after time when given opportunities to score by its defense, exploded in the second half on one brilliant play.

Malik Felton, pushed into the role of running back a week ago after an injury to Sean DeRosa, shocked Mater Dei and its fans Friday at Angel Stadium with a brilliant 87-yard run that ignited the Friars in a 21-14 Trinity League victory.

Felton finished with 23 carries for 188 yards and two touchdowns, and his stunning sprint – he cut back three times times en route to the end zone – marked the beginning of the end for hopes of an upset for Mater Dei (5-3, 2-1).

There's no telling how many potential recruits Servite (8-0, 3-0) may have won over with its first back-to-back victories over their rival since winning three in a row in 1986-88 – which preceded a 20-year winless streak against the Monarchs.

This victory validated last year's victory, and it will keep the Friars in position to win a sixth consecutive league championship. They will have to beat Santa Margarita (7-1, 3-0) next week at Saddleback College. Santa Margarita defeated St. John Bosco in overtime, 42-41.

Servite's only points in the first half had come on defensive lineman Troy Niklas' 26-yard interception return, the second of four interceptions against Mater Dei's USC-bound quarterback, Max Wittek (16 of 30, 159 yards).

But Servite's offense was almost nonexistent. The defense kept putting it in position to get points, the offense stalled, and Connor Loftus missed field-goal attempts of 52 and 50 yards.

Mater Dei's 71-yard drive late in the half seemed to prime the Monarchs for the upset, especially when they opened the second half with the ball at the 50. But the defense forced a punt, and Servite got the ball at the 13. Eighteen seconds later, Felton was pumping his fist as he crossed into the end zone having swept to the left, escaped two would-be tacklers and cutting three times in a YouTube moment.

“I just wanted to get down the field and do my best on that play because I knew we really needed it and my teammates were counting on me, so I gave my heart out on every single one of those plays,” said Felton, a 5-foot-7 senior.

A week earlier, Felton had rushed for 199 yards. Suddenly, Bosco's Martin Brown might not be the most explosive runner in the league.

“He's got something inside of him and he's just trying to get out,” said Servite coach Troy Thomas. “The way he runs – he runs so dang hard. He has that special thing that running backs have. The greatest thing about him is that he's been a running back in our program, he's been a guy who's done this stuff but not consistently enough, and he's just hung in there. We move him to receiver and in his mind he's going, 'Dude, c'mon, I'm a running back.' But he never let it get him down. We moved him to receiver and he kept playing and working hard. I'm thankful he got his opportunity. I'm not thankful that Sean DeRosa got hurt, but I'm thankful that Malik's getting his chance to show what he can do and prove to us coaches that we made a mistake.”

Linebacker Matt Inman had two interceptions, including a 40-yard return to the Mater Dei 12 after Felton's long run, but Loftus' third field-goal attempt – of 40 yards – was blocked by John Tavarez. Mater Dei drove from its 40 to the Servite 10 before Brett Parker's 27-yard field-goal attempt was wide.

Servite answered with an 80-yard drive that sealed the deal, Felton cutting back once more on a six-yard carry after several clutch plays by quarterback Cody Pittman.

“We pride ourselves on alignment, and we were misaligned and had a bad angle,” Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said of Felton's defining run. “Then again, they made the play when they had to.”