Sondheimer: Can Serra give Mater Dei a game? Not likely



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Cycles are as much a part of the sports experience as fans complaining about officials and coaches getting fired.

No matter the sport, no matter the era, there’s always a cycle of boom and bust. Right now, in high school football in Southern California, this is the boom cycle, when the top team coming from Northern California has little chance against the top team from Southern California.

The latest installment of an overmatched team taking a long bus ride only to learn it has little chance of winning happens on Saturday night in the CIF Open Division state championship bowl game, where unbeaten San Mateo Serra (12-0) is a heavy underdog to Santa Ana Mater Dei (12-1) in the 8 p.m. matchup at Saddleback College.

Last season, Serra lost to St. John Bosco 45-0. In 2021, Serra lost to Mater Dei 44-7. Serra is a good team, it’s just that Mater Dei and St. John Bosco have separated themselves with great coaching and overwhelming talent.

That feeling of helplessness was once felt in Southern California. Remember when Concord De La Salle was coming to town and leaving teams shaking their heads in disbelief. Servite lost to De La Salle 48-8 in the 2010 Open Division final. Westlake lost to De La Salle 35-0 in 2011.

It’s a cycle, but this current one shows no sign of ending anytime soon. The last Northern California team to win an Open Division title was De La Salle in 2015 over Corona Centennial 28-21. Games haven’t been competitive. Fourteen points is the closest a Northern California team has gotten.

Perhaps Serra coach Patrick Walsh can give one of his inspirational speeches to fire up his players so much they’ll play beyond what anyone believes, or Mater Dei’s top seniors will take the game for granted knowing they’ll be college students as early as next month.

Fans and others will speculate what can be done.

“If people are tired of it, two things would have to change,” Walsh said. “One, someone has to beat us or two, they have to change the system. I’m not apologetic for either one. We’re better than last year. Our defense is pretty much all returning.”

Of course, it’s sports, and everyone knows the unexpected is possible. The problem is Mater Dei has players going to Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Auburn, Oregon and Stanford. Serra has players going to San José State and San Diego State. If both teams play their best, Mater Dei wins big.

“We’re playing a Southern California All-Star team,” Walsh said. “Why are people afraid of telling the truth?”

Give Walsh credit. He’s going full speed ahead, even scheduling a home game with St. John Bosco next season on Sept. 14 in an attempt to raise his team’s level of play.

Serra has three weeks to prepare for Mater Dei, having last played Nov. 17. That’s time to put in trick plays, get healthy and play the underdog card.

Northern California is likely to win many of the other championship matchups next weekend at Saddleback, El Camino College and Pasadena City College. One reason is the Southern Section’s competitive equity model for its divisional playoffs, which relies on the CalPreps.com computer system to put its top eight teams in Division 1, leaving the other divisions weakened come state playoff time.

Other sections have four-team top divisions. The North Coast and Central Coast Sections allow one team to lose in its Open Division playoffs and have a chance move to the state playoffs in a lower bracket. Imagine if the Southern Section allowed one of its top teams to keep playing after a loss?

Walsh has one more card to play next weekend. He could ask his school’s most famous alumnus, Tom Brady, to come out of retirement.

“He has, unfortunately, used up his eligibility,” Walsh said.



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