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WEEK FIVE FOOTBALL: La Mirada Outmatched by Nation’s Number One Team

 

 

La Mirada High junior running back Denver Stillman tries to get some positive yardage but Mater Dei High’s Eoghan Kerry (#52) has the advantage in making a tackle in last Friday night’s Mater Dei 58-7 victory. La Mirada, which was held to minus 10 yards rushing in 30 attempts, dropped to 3-3 on the season. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

 

September 29, 2021

BY LOREN KOPFF

@LORENKOPFF on Twitter

 

SANTA ANA-In 2015, La Mirada High’s football team began the season at 1-3 by being pummeled by St. John Bosco High 76-8 and Mater Dei High 42-7 in two of the first three games, as described by head coach Mike Moschetti. The Matadores, though, would go on to win the next 12 games, capture a CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division title and a Division III-AA state crown.

So, when the Matadores walked onto Eddie West Field at the Santa Ana Bowl last Friday night to face the top team in the nation, Moschetti knew an upset wasn’t in the cards, but that this would be an opportunity his players would cherish for a long time. On this night, it wasn’t about the final score, which went in favor of Mater Dei 58-7, leaving La Mirada sitting at 3-3. It was about the memories.

“We knew this was going to get ugly, so we wanted to play everybody,” Moschetti said. “And it’s just something we do at La Mirada. Nobody will play these guys, and we’re a public school with 1,800 students and it’s just something we’ve done. I think it’s the fifth or sixth time we’ve played them. We’ve played Servite, we’ve played Bosco, we’ve played Bishop Amat. I really feel you get something out of this. It’s a good time atmosphere. It’s something these kids will remember for the rest of their lives; to say they’ve played the number one team in the country.”

Moschetti continued to say that all week long and even when they got off the bus upon arrival at the Santa Ana Bowl, his players couldn’t stop talking about playing the Monarchs and that being a big time program like Mater Dei is something La Mirada is striving to be someday.

The Matadores have completed their non-league portion of the schedule with a three-point loss to El Toro High and back to back setbacks to Foothill High and Mater Dei by a combined score of 92-14. And while it’s too early to predict if the Matadores will make a deep run in the playoffs or a divisional championship like the one it had in 2015, La Mirada is sure to use these first six games of the 2021 season as tune-ups for the upcoming Suburban League schedule and the playoffs.

Before the kickoff, La Mirada was even more at a disadvantage because senior running back Edward Lafferre, who separated his shoulder against Foothill, did not play. He leads the team with 430 yards and three rushing touchdowns and is listed week to week, according to Moschetti. In fact, the coach admitted his team is ‘really thin and really beat up’.

Mater Dei scored three times within the first 7:44 on just 10 plays with Raleek Brown going in from six yards out, Elijah Brown tossing a 49-yard pass to Coper Barkate and Jordon Davison adding a three-yard score. Meanwhile, La Mirada couldn’t get anything going on offense, running 12 plays in the first quarter for 10 yards with junior quarterback Nehuel Garcia throwing an interception, which led to the second Mater Dei score.

La Mirada’s defense held its ground in the second quarter against the Mater Dei reserves and got an interception from sophomore linebacker Frank Torres, who returned the ball 37 yards. Five plays later, Garcia scored from a yard out and with 6:26 left in the half, La Mirada was showing some life.

But the Monarchs responded by going nearly the remainder of the half and with 9.3 seconds left, Chase Meyer kicked a 34-yard field goal. Whatever momentum the Matadores thought they might have had was wiped out when Ajon Bryant returned the second half kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown and a 31-7 lead.

“It was a huge backbreaker, and we have to fix our turnover situation,” Moschetti said. “We threw a pick [and] we fumbled for a touchdown. I think it’s the third game this year we’ve given up a defensive touchdown.”

“We pulled the one’s at the end of the first quarter and it was fun to watch our two’s play and have them battle,” said Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson. “And then we’re always going to put our one’s back in because we only had two preseason games and a scrimmage.”

Mater Dei scored three more times in the third quarter, including a 21-yard fumble return by R.J. Fineanganofo caused when Kassius Ashtiani sacked Garcia. It was the second of two turnovers La Mirada had in the game. The fourth quarter would be played under running clock conditions.

Mater Dei has now defeated the Matadores in all seven meetings dating back to 1975 by a combined score of 279-14 and even with the blowout loss, Rollinson was still concerned with La Mirada’s offense.

“The offense is very creative,” Rollinson said. “Mike’s done a great job with shifts, motions, unbalance. There’s a myriad of things that you have to defend, and what I like what he does, he just tries to find mismatches. But we spent a lot of time trying to get the kids to understand what they essentially were trying to do. That was our biggest concern; their offense, which I thought they had some success.

“Defensively, I thought they would blitz more,” he continued. “I thought they would stunt more. I was worried about them shifting and they didn’t shift as much. But it was a good game. I respect Mike; those kids played hard.”

Rollinson, who is now in his 33rd year coaching the Monarchs, won his 319th game opposite 86 losses and two ties. Under his watch, Mater Dei has been to the CIF-SS finals 14 times, won seven CIF-SS championships, four National Championships, and three state titles.

“From here on out, these kids aren’t going to face anything near what we just faced,” Moschetti said. “Coach Rollinson and his staff did a great job; he played everybody and got his freshmen kids in there. [Our] kids wanted to do it and it’s something we’ve always done, and we got something out of this tonight.”

He added that by playing the likes of a Mater Dei every season, he thinks his coaching staff can coach off film and learn a lot about the makeup of the team. Garcia completed four of 10 passes for 55 yards, but the Matadores were limited to negative 10 yards on the ground in 30 attempts. Overall, the Monarchs outgained La Mirada by over 400 yards and had 17 first downs opposed to just four. The Matadores also did not convert a third down and punted eight times.

“That’s a good football team; they’ll do fine in their league,” Rollinson said. “But I think we wore them down with that interception.”

La Mirada will enjoy a week off after playing six in consecutive weeks before jumping into Suburban League action at Mayfair High on Oct. 8. After that, the Matadores will host Norwalk High as the league tittle could be decided following that contest with two more weeks to go in the regular season.

“Mayfair has beaten us four years in a row, so our whole focus is on trying to get over that hump,” Moschetti said. “First thing we have to do is get healthy. But we always play a tough preseason schedule because it prepares us for games in November and December. Coming out here and facing Mater Dei and facing a good Foothill team…now when you go into the playoffs and you have to go up against Mayfair, they’re not going to be wide-eyed. They’ve played against the best. Nobody in the country is going to play a team as good as Mater Dei.

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