Los Angeles Preps: Troy Thomas

Servite footballAlex Gallardo for ESPNLosAngeles.comServite quarterback Cody Pittman (12) rushes the ball during Friday's game against Santa Margarita.

CERRITOS -- No guts, no glory.

Down by one point in overtime, Servite quarterback Cody Pittman rolled to his right, made his reads, and hit Ainslie Johnson in the end zone for a two-point conversion.

It was the only thing that separated top-ranked Servite from Santa Margarita, the No. 6 team in the ESPNLA Top 25, in a 43-42 victory at Cerritos College on Friday night.

"I didn't want to face their offense again," said Servite coach Troy Thomas, whose team came into the game ranked No. 2 in the state and didn't like the prospect of trying to stop the Eagles again.

When Servite (9-1, 5-0) begins its quest for a third consecutive Southern Section Pac-5 title next week, the Friars will be the top-seeded team. Santa Margarita will be the second-place team from the league, and No. 18 St. John Bosco, by virtue of its 48-28 win over Orange Lutheran, will be the third-place team.

It was the 19th consecutive Trinity League victory for Servite, which won outright its seventh consecutive league title -- all since the arrival of Thomas.

Pittman rushed 18 times for 100 yards, and also completed 20 of 23 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns.

Pittman was complemented by Mana Pauu, who rushed for three touchdowns, of 10, 3 and 3 yards. He carried 16 times for 62 yards.

Pittman's performance overshadowed an extraordinary effort by Santa Margarita's Johnny Stanton who rushed for three touchdowns and passed for another, a screen that went for 60 yards to Ryan Wolpin. Wolpin also scored on runs of one and five yards.

Stanton completed 19 of 27 passes for 274 yards, and he also rushed 25 times for 133 yards. He scored from seven yards with 1:50 left in the game to tie the contest at 35-35.

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1. The goals that Jim Hartigan instituted at JSerra for the program to take steps forward kept getting bigger and bigger. Win a game. Win all the nonleague games. Win a Trinity League game. And though the Lions -- outclassed in the league largely because of depth -- had scored a Trinity victory a couple of years ago against Santa Margarita, it paled compared to the victory this past weekend over Orange Lutheran. When JSerra beat Santa Margarita, 14-12, in the 2009 season, it beat a team that was struggling and finished 3-7 overall and failed to win a league game for the first time in its history. When it beat Lutheran by scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter for a 31-14 victory, it beat a team that was clearly acknowledged as one of the best in Orange County and was ranked in the ESPNLA Top 25. Quarterback Jake Hall and receiver Jonavaughn Williams are playmakers of the first order. Going into the final week of the season, JSerra (4-5, 1-3) is still alive for a playoff berth: If JSerra beats Mater Dei (3-6, 1-3) and Orange Lutheran (6-3, 1-3) beats St. John Bosco (6-3, 2-2), a coin flip would determine the third-place playoff entry from the league.

2. If there was a bigger win in Orange County than JSerra's over Orange Lutheran, it would probably have to be Huntington Beach's 58-28 Sunset League victory over Los Alamitos, a game in which the Oilers eliminated Los Al from playoff contention. Michael Chislock passed for three touchdowns and ran for two more as Huntington Beach (7-2, 3-1) showed that it might be a dangerous opponent in the postseason; comparably, Santa Margarita defeated Los Al, 38-27. Like JSerra's Trinity League upset, it was a second-half barrage that decided it; Los Al had scored the first 14 points, and trailed 24-16 just a minute into the third quarter before Huntington Beach scored six touchdowns (including an interception return by Zach Hadlock and fumble recovery by Ramon Vargas) and a field goal; the only TD allowed by the Oilers defense over the final 23 minutes was a 57-yard run by Cody Paul. It has to be a bitter disappointment for Los Alamitos, which hasn't won a playoff game since reaching the Southern Section finals in 2004. Los Al (5-4, 1-3) has lost four of its last five games and, on the season, is 1-4 against opponents with a winning record. At the earliest, it will be next season before coach John Barnes (293-89) collects his 300th victory.

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No. 1 Servite 35, No. 16 St. John Bosco 27

October, 29, 2011

BELLFLOWER -- Servite coach Troy Thomas and quarterback Cody Pittman both knew it: There was no way the Friars could out-athlete St. John Bosco. It takes a lot for competitors to admit that others are faster and quicker but neither Thomas or Pittman shied away from doing so Friday night.

Instead, they ran right at the supposed mismatch. Time after time after time.

Servite, No. 1 in the ESPN Los Angeles prep football top 25, used its strong running attack to earn a hard-fought victory against St. John Bosco, 35-27, at Braves Stadium. The win gave the Friars sole possession of first place in the Trinity League.

"We figured the only way we could get it done was to try to beat them up front, which isn't easy to do either obviously," Thomas said. "But we felt like that was the only way we could get it done."

Manaitavini Pauu had 128 yards of total offense and two touchdowns, Andrew Moore added 108 and two scores, and Pittman pitched in with 162 total yards for Servite (7-1, 3-0), which erased an early second half deficit. The Friars trailed twice -- 21-14 and 27-21 -- in the third quarter but the physicality of Pauu and Moore brought them back.

"We thought the line up front was going to be big this week and they were," Pittman said. "They were pushing guys off the ball and creating running lanes."

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Manaitovini PauuAlex Gallardo for ESPNLA.comMana Pauu picks up some of his hard-earned 77 rushing yards in Servite's victory Friday.

NORWALK -- Six games into the season, Troy Thomas finally had a reason to smile. After five games of failing to play "Servite football," the Friars did just that Friday in their Trinity League opener against Orange Lutheran.

The result ESPNLA's top-ranked team scoring a 21-8 victory over the eighth-ranked Lancers at Cerritos College.

Servite (5-1, 1-0), which has won at least a share of six consecutive league titles, defeated Lutheran (5-1, 0-1) for the seventh consecutive season. All eyes are on the Friars, who have won the last two Pac-5 championships. This was their 30th victory in 32 games, but the first since losing two weeks ago in Las Vegas to Bishop Gorman, 31-28, on a last-minute field goal.

"This is a huge win," Thomas, the Servite coach, said. "Any win is huge in this league. OLu is a very talented team watching them on film. They do a lot of great things. To get this one is huge for us, especially after last week. We didn't feel like we played Servite football. Tonight we played Servite football."

Cody Pittman found wide-open Ainslie Johnson for 53- and 82-yard touchdowns, and a junior running back who was on the scout team two weeks ago seemed to galvanize his place in the lineup. Mana Pauu rushed 16 times for 77 yards against a tough Lutheran defense, including a four-yard score with three seconds left in the first half that gave Servite a 7-2 lead.

But the star of the night was the Servite defense led by Butch Pauu, who had an interception as well as several commanding tackles. The Friars were more physical than they had been all season. They shut out the Lutheran offense until the final minute, when the Lancers drove 98 yards and scored on a 14-yard pass from Conner Sullivan to Brady Roelofs with 25 seconds remaining.

"That's the way we can play defense," Thomas said afterward. "Finally. Finally!"

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Football: Bishop Gorman (Nev.) 31, No. 1 Servite 28

October, 1, 2011
LAS VEGAS -- Considering the Servite football team has won the last two CIF-Southern Section Pac-5 Division championships and entered the game at No. 1 in the state and No. 13 in the POWERADE FAB 50, it’s easy to say that Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) coming up with a 31-28 win Friday ranks as probably the biggest win ever by a Nevada high school football team over one from California.

It's true the Gaels (6-1) were No. 10 in the FAB 50 and for the last three years have played at a level equal to many top teams nationally, but they'd yet to beat a top California foe. In fact, beginning with the first game between the two states -- believed to be a 70-0 win in 1896 by Belmont Academy (Belmont, Calif.) over the University of Nevada -- there's never been a California team as highly regarded as Servite that has lost to a Nevada opponent.

Junior Klein Fielden snuck through a 39-yard field goal with 1:03 left to give Bishop Gorman a 31-28 lead. Servite (4-1) tried to respond, but a dropped lateral cost the Friars 10 yards on their second play and they couldn’t recover. A desperation fourth-down pass by quarterback Cody Pittman was intercepted with 18 seconds left by the Gaels' Nathan Starks to seal the triumph.

“Being from California myself I know what type of football is played by a team like Servite so for us just to be close speaks volumes about the way we play,” said Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez. “At the end of the day, this was a game that could have gone either way.”

Servite tied the score 28-28 on the first play of the fourth quarter on a 12-yard run by junior Manaitavini Pauu, who had no carries in the first half but surged to a team-best 83 yards in 12 carries in the second half. The Friars also had a promising drive later in the quarter that began on their own 2-yard line, but stalled at midfield. Bishop Gorman then went on its drive to Fielden’s field goal on its ensuing series.

“We’ll learn a lot from this game,” said Servite coach Troy Thomas. “We made some mistakes and I’m just glad it was in the preseason.

“We hadn’t been in a game like this yet and I was glad to see how much we battled back. They just made some big plays and we knew they were a big play team.”

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Football: No. 1 Servite

August, 31, 2011
Butch PauuCourtesy of Laurence MartinezServite has had standout players on defense, and this season Butch Pauu figures to step to the forefront.

Can Servite win three consecutive Southern Section Pac-5 titles? History indicates that it's not likely, but since Troy Thomas took over a program that had won only three league games in four seasons, the Friars have won a share of six straight league titles, reached at least the semifinals four times, won a State Bowl Championship, and won the state's toughest division in back-to-back years.

The Friars should again be tough on defense even though only four starters return. The last two years Servite had a leader with a bruising physical presence — Jake Slemmer in 2009, and Matt Inman in 2010. Who will rise into that role this season? The obvious choice is Brigham Young-bound linebacker Butch Pauu, who's in his third season as a starter.

Last season's embarrassing 48-8 loss to Concord De La Salle in the Open Bowl Championship series ended a 25-game winning streak and forced the Friars to refocus even though they have won 28 of their last 30 games.

"We've made a step up on both sides of the ball — we had to," said Thomas, who is 96-29 in nine years as a head coach, 62-16 at Servite. "We learned that what we were doing wasn’t good enough. Technically, we were not doing a good enough job to play with a De La Salle up front, and that’s on me. We’ve been studying hard and working diligently as a coaching staff. I’m really happy with our offensive line coach (Jim O'Connell) and defensive line coach (A.J. Gass). They’re doing some amazing things with our guys. Technically, we’ve really improved."

They've improved? That can't be good news for opponents.

Here is a closer look at the Friars:

Team: Servite

Coach: Troy Thomas, seventh season

2010 record: 14-1, beat Mission Viejo for Southern Section Pac-5 championship; lost to Concord De La Salle in Open Bowl Championship Series.

Returning starters: 12 total. Eight on offense, four on defense.

Key players on offense:: RB Sean DeRosa, OL Travis Averill (Boise State), WR Sam Hunt, QB Cody Pittman, TE Ainslie Johnson, OL Michael Meyer, OL Miles Williams.

Key players on defense: LB Butch Pauu (BYU), DE Jherremya Leuta-Douyere (BYU), DE Conner Einck, FS Domain Mora.

Difference maker: Pittman was just trying to win the job at QB last season and was considered the weak link, yet he was remarkably efficient; he completed 65 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. A running threat and improved passer, he comes into this season with more confidence. Thomas says that "he's as good as we've had," at the position, and considering Cody Fajardo was the QB two years ago, that's saying something.

Newcomers: TB/MLB Andrew Moore, a sophomore who will find his way onto the field.

Not to be missed: Santa Margarita vs. Servite at Cerritos College, Nov 11. If the season plays out the way it's projected, the Trinity League title will be decided in Week 10 by the two best teams. The first round of the playoffs will be a step down, for sure.

Coach's comment: " I don’t know how good we’re going to be, we’re just going against each other," Thomas said. "But I’ll tell you this: I really like my team. I like how they practice."

Final analysis: Servite's trademark under Thomas has been its physical play and its defense. By the time Trinity League play rolls around, the defense should be solid. Servite has only one interest, and that's punching its ticket into the Pac-5 playoffs. Even if it has a handful of losses — owing to the difficult schedule that could be the case — the Friars won't be on anyone's wish list come the postseason. Until someone beats them in the playoffs, they're still the team to beat.

CIF State Open Division: De La Salle 48, Servite 8

December, 18, 2010

Alex Gallardo/Special to ESPNLA.com
Servite's Malik Felton, left, tries to run down De La Salle's Devin Williams during Saturday's CIF Open Division state bowl game.

CARSON -- More than half an hour had ticked off the game clock when Servite moved the chains. Two and a half quarters, no first downs.

When it finally happened, Servite supporters couldn't help themselves. At last, something to cheer for.

And really, who could blame the home contingent for erupting the way it did? De La Salle kept them quiet for most of the night, running away with a 48-8 victory for its second consecutive CIF State Open Division championship Saturday at the Home Depot Center.

"We tried our best, we lost," Servite coach Troy Thomas said with a smile. "We'll wake up tomorrow with our families and enjoy that we had a great season."

You got the sense afterward that Thomas believed the Spartans' romp was inevitable. The powerhouse from Concord does it to everyone. Thomas, though, had hoped that Servite (14-1) would represent the Southern Section in better fashion.

The Friars' loss meant Southern Section teams went 0-3 on the bowl weekend. Inland Division champion Corona Centennial fell to Palo Alto in the Division I bowl Friday night; Western Division champion Gardena Serra lost to Folsom in the Division II bowl earlier Saturday.

"We didn't really show what we're capable of," Thomas said. "It's hard to go out like that, but I'm proud of these guys. I love them just the same. I'm proud of this program. We'll be back next year."

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Matt Inman has been key for Servite

December, 17, 2010
There are several athletes who could be considered the face of Servite football, such as running back Malik Felton, who changed the team’s offense when he switched from wide receiver mid-season, or lineman Troy Niklas, who is the big-time college. But it would be hard to argue that the player in the center of the defense isn’t that person.

Matt Inman, a senior linebacker, has played with injuries for the past two years, and when the Friars (14-0) step on the field at Home Depot Center against Concord De La Salle (13-0) on Saturday night in the CIF State Open Division bowl game, Inman still won’t be 100 percent. He has been bothered by a high ankle sprain this season. A year ago, chronic stingers down his neck and arms and a cyst in his tailbone made him more than uncomfortable.

“Against Mater Dei, he had nothing left,” Servite coach Troy Thomas said. “He could barely walk. He was in a boot for two weeks and kept playing. We gave him a rest against Jordan. We had to convince him to stay out. He’s an old school guy. When people see him, he’s a brute linebacker who hits people, but he’s so much more than that. He really is a good teammate. They know how much he gives, how much he cares, how much he sacrifices.”

That’s one reason his teammates can easily talk about the team rather than the individual. And when Inman talked to his teammates they listened. He talked about not winning a championship for the ring, but for the opportunity to play another week with the brothers in the locker room. Then they went out and beat Mission Viejo in the Pac-5 finals, 41-27.

“I’m not a big pregame speech guy,” Thomas said. “I think they’re made in the offseason and leading up to the week, everything’s been said or it’s too late.

"But when it comes from a player it means something on game day. Before this game he got emotional. He said we’re playing for one more week, it’s not about the ring. It was a great emotional speech. I think the team felt it, and I know the coaches did.”

So Inman and his teammates will step on the field one last time this season trying to complete a perfect season. They have won 25 games in a row and will try to beat a program that once won 151 in a row. And when De La Salle lines up on offense, the face they will see is Inman’s.

Servite vs. Concord De La Salle

December, 17, 2010

Servite High School football coach Troy Thomas discusses his teams upcoming matchup with De La Salle for the CIF State Championship.

Orange County: Five things from the weekend

December, 14, 2010
1. Mission Viejo coach Bob Johnson said he wasn't trying to make excuses, but he recognized that the first half of the top-seeded Diablos' 41-27 loss to second-seeded Servite was “a disaster,” as his team made too many mistakes and dropped too many passes. Servite coach Troy Thomas quipped, “We dropped a lot of their passes too.”

2. All the respect in the world for Alex Bridgford, the Mission Viejo QB who finished 21 of 48 for 274 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Bridgford got crushed on the final play of the game and fumbled one yard from the end zone. In tears during the postgame award presentation, the junior showed the leadership mettle that will serve him well in the long run. He stood in and answered questions about the only loss his team suffered all season. That was in contrast to one of his senior teammates who refused to even acknowledge the reporter without so much as an “I'd rather not talk.” From where I stand, Bridgford is the Man.

3. Helping top-seeded Garden Grove win its first-ever football title, Josh Webb's performance in a 31-30 Southern Division victory over Beckman might have been the single-most exciting football performance I've seen in 30 years of covering high school sports. I was there the night Santa Margarita quarterback Carson Palmer outdueled Tustin running back DeShaun Foster, and I've seen plenty of highlight reel footage from the pressboxand the sidelines. I'm not sure anything compared to the dynamic performance by Webb on the biggest stage Garden Grove can play; his five-yard touchdown run (with a somersault) after taking a backward pass and then his conversion run (with a 360-degree rotation across the top of two defenders) with 1:27 left in the game was the best set of back-to-back plays I've seen. Ever.

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Orange County: Five things from the weekend

December, 6, 2010
1. There’s no telling whether or not Corbin Andersonwould have made much of a difference in Mater Dei’s 42-21 loss to Mission Viejo in the Pac-5 semifinals, but the Monarchs’ leading rusher might have come in handy when his team got inside the three-yard line and had two downs to make two yards. Instead, Freddie Mora and Max Wittek came up inches short. Mater Dei scored later in the half, but a 21-7 lead would have inspired much more confidence to stave off the eventual implosion. Instead, Mission Viejo tied the score in the final minute of the first half and scored on three of its first four possessions of the second half. The reason for Anderson’s absence in the game? “It’s a school issue,” was the official comment from coach Bruce Rollinson. Talk about a letdown.

2. Two weeks in a row and the handshake routine has not gone well with Mission Viejo. Santa Margarita coach Harry Welch described the postgame meeting with Bob Johnson as “a token grunt” after Mission’s 31-28 victory. This past weekend offensive coordinator Bret Johnson apparently was unimpressed with the quality of handshake he was getting from Mater Dei coaches. Might that long pass from Alex Bridgford to Frank Randall, albeit incomplete, along the sidelines on second-and-eight at the Mater Dei 29 -- with one minute remaining and a 42-21 lead -- have something to do with it? It drew boos from the Mater Dei fans. It probably didn’t sit well with the coaches, either. One theory for the big-play attempt: Centennial beat Mater Dei by 31 points (44-13) and Mission was trying to get as close to that margin as possible so that it’s not a compelling argument when state commissioners select the Southern Section Open Bowl participant; however, the argument breaks down when you realize Centennial led 44-0 at one point.

3. It was universally agreed in the press box Saturday that if Alemany quarterback Vernon Adamsplayed in the OC, he would be the all-county quarterback. Adams was reminiscent of last year’s player of the year, Servite’s Cody Fajardo, except he had sidestep moves that made him more dangerous. “I like him a lot now that the game’s over,” Servite coach and defensive coordinator Troy Thomas said. “He’s a special guy. He’s done that against everybody for two years.” The elusive Adams passed for 278 yards and ran 22 times for 140 yards. Defense is Servite’s calling card, and some of the Friars looked gassed afterward. It’s a credit that they sacked him twice for 15 yards, by linebackerConnor Einck and lineman Jody Thomas.

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Pac-5 Division: Servite 28, Alemany 21

December, 4, 2010

Alex Gallardo/Special to ESPNLA.com
Servite's Malik Felton rushes for some of his 155 yards on the ground to lead the Friars to victory.

CERRITOS – Classic Servite.

Special teams, defense, and Malik Felton.

The Friars, seeded second in the Southern Section Pac-5 Division playoffs, lived up to their reputation Saturday when they relied on their sure things to beat previously unbeaten Alemany, 28-21, to advance to their second consecutive championship.

Servite (13-0) will play top-seeded Mission Viejo (13-0) on Saturday at Angel Stadium in a game that features two of the Southland's heavy hitters, a collision course that seems to have been destined since Day 1. They met last year in the Pac-5 semifinals and Servite won, 19-18, when it turned back a two-point conversion attempt in the last minute. The Friars went on to win the section title, then the State Division II Bowl championship.

Their winning streak now stands at 24 games, but it wasn't without some anxious moments against Alemany (12-1).

Vernon Adams showed just how dangerous he could be. He completed 19 of 34 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns, and ran 22 times for 140 yards. “Tiring,” is how Troy Niklas described trying to track down the elusive senior.

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Pac-5: Servite 40, Crespi 16

November, 26, 2010

John Lazar/Special to ESPNLA.com
Crespi's M. Ajani Shanks gets tackled by Servite's Butch Pauu in the first half of their Pac-5 quarterfinal game.

ENCINO -- One of their very own came home.

Former Crespi High football coach Troy Thomas, also a Celts’ alumni, returned to his old stomping grounds Friday night. This time around, however, he was in unfamiliar territory. Thomas was on the opposite sideline as head honcho of Servite, the top-ranked team in ESPNLosAngeles.com‘s Top 25 rankings.

As much as he attempted to downplay the whole idea of being back at Crespi, you get the sense Thomas was pleased with the Friars’ 40-16 victory over the Celts in a Southern Section Pac-5 Division quarterfinal showdown.

“Sure, I recognized a lot of faces tonight, I was here for quite a while. But really, there was no need to make this game any bigger than it already was,” said Thomas, who is in his sixth year at Servite after compiling a 34-13 record with the Celts from 2001 to '04. He graduated from Crespi in 1987.

“It’s always nice to come back and get a win at your old school. But it wasn’t about me. It was about all of our kids and their desire to get the job done. I’m extremely proud of this bunch. They did a great job. ‘’

With the victory, Servite (11-0) extended its winning streak to 22 consecutive games. Equally important is the fact that the Friars moved one step closer to a successful defense of their division title.

“Coach didn’t say much leading up to this game, but deep down, we know he probably wanted this win a little more than the others this season,’’ Servite senior Matt Inman said. “We got it done for him.’’

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Orange County: No. 1 Servite 17, No. 18 Santa Margarita 10

November, 5, 2010
MISSION VIEJO -- Troy Thomas' voice was low, barely above a whisper, as he answered the question an hour before Servite put its No. 1 ranking in the Southland on the line against No. 18 Santa Margarita: “I'm a little nervous, to be honest.”

He was getting ready to face Harry Welch, who like Thomas was a product of Crespi High, who had won eight section titles and two Bowl championships, who had turned Santa Margarita into one of the best teams in the state in only one year.

Thomas had learned from the legend Welch this week while watching Santa Margarita on film, and he fully expected to learn something from the game that was getting ready to be played. “Studying their offense, the things they do, it's good football,” Thomas said. “A lot of people run the same things, but it's the little things that are the difference between success and failure.”

But Thomas' reclamation of Servite -- six years earlier -- has been similarly impressive, and on Friday at Saddleback College, Servite won a share of its sixth consecutive league championship with a 17-10 Trinity League victory over Welch's proteges.

For Thomas, dating to his days as head coach at Crespi, it's his eighth consecutive league title. Like Welch, maybe Thomas knows what he's doing too.

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Orange County: No. 1 Servite 21, No. 12 Mater Dei 14

October, 29, 2010
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.

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