Two of the top teams in the state clash Friday night in Santa Ana, as fifth-ranked Mater Dei takes on second-ranked Corona Centennial.
The showdown will have major implications on the rankings and may play a factor in the selection of State Bowl participants at the end of the year. More than that, it is also a battle for glory between the Pac-5 and Inland Divisions; between Orange and Riverside Counties; between private and public schools.
Both sides come in to the game undefeated and are loaded with Division I talent.
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Last season's game between the two resulted in a state record for total yards, with the two teams combining for 1,302 yards in Mater Dei's 51-37 victory. A similar shootout this season is unlikely, as the Huskies are without offensive stars Matt Scott and Ryan Bass and have made significant improvements on the other side of the ball.
"I think we're better defensively," said Coach Matt Logan. "Offensively we're not quite as good as we were last year."
Centennial's defense is charged with slowing down Mater Dei's aerial assault, led by four-year starting quarterback Matt Barkley. Barkley has thrown for 532 yards and 8 touchdowns so far this season, but has made mistakes leading to four interceptions. The USC-bound signal-caller passed for 365 yards in last year's shootout.
"The biggest key is trying to control Barkley," said Logan. "We're going to give him different looks and try to confuse him."
The Huskies' defense goes up against Mater Dei's pass-heavy offense just a week after facing a Chaparral team without a real passing threat. Chaparral was without quarterback Mitch Glasmann due to eligibility issues and resorted to putting running back Johnny Diaz under center most of the game. When the Pumas did try to pass on the Huskies, linebacker Anthony Whitlow was there to stop it. The senior had two sacks and an interception in Centennial's 26-16 win.
Logan hopes that his linebacking corps won't have to put pressure on Barkley, freeing them up to put additional coverage on Ario Winston and the rest of Mater Dei's receiving corps. Centennial's defensive line of William Sutton, Paul Verrette and Ben Letcher will be counted on to provide a strong pass rush against the Monarchs' offensive line, which may be without tackle Chris Ward.
"I really think that our defensive line is going to be the biggest key," said Logan. "If they can create pressure on (Barkley) without blitzing, that's going to be to our advantage."
Centennial's offense has room to improve after last week's performance. The Huskies were limited just 60 yards rushing and 270 yards total offense. Over one-quarter of that came on the game-clinching76-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Taylor Martinez to Zach Fazli. Logan and his staff have rearranged personnel on the offensive line in hopes of getting a better push at the line of scrimmage. They may be able to put up more yards against a Mater Dei defense that gave up 251 yards on the ground in their 46-43 Week 0 win against Carson.
"We've got to move the chains and put some points on the board to put pressure on them," said Logan.
The game is Centennial's second of the season, while Mater Dei has already played two, following up their narrow escape against Carson with a 49-7 thrashing of Cypress. Many of the deficiencies the Monarchs showed against Carson were not a factor against Cypress, the 2007 Southern Division champions, but still a lower-division team.
"They have an advantage because they've played another game," said Logan. "You can tell that they are where they're supposed to be and they do what they're supposed to do."
Last year's loss didn't stop Centennial from earning a berth in the Division I State Bowl game, and it didn't help Mater Dei, who lost in the quarterfinals of the Pac-5 playoffs. It may be different this season, as Long Beach Poly appears unlikely to lose a regular season game and other Division I squads like Upland, Palmdale and La Costa Canyon may run the table. The State Bowl implications and potential payback for last year's loss have the Huskies fired up for Friday night.
"It's definitely a motivation factor on our side," said Logan about avenging last year's loss. "(The players) all know who we're playing and the magnitude of the game."
Friday's contest is officially a home game for the Huskies, but is being played at Santa Ana Stadium because there are no facilities in Riverside County that can accommodate the large number of fans and media outlets expected to attend. Centennial will wear white uniforms and use the visitors' locker room out of respect for Mater Dei, which plays all their home games at the stadium.
The game is expected to sell out well before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Both schools are selling tickets on-campus and there will be a limited number available at the Santa Ana Stadium box office. Fans unable to acquire tickets will have sufficient time to get home and watch the game via tape delay on Fox Sports West at 8:30 p.m.