Plenty of visitors are in Las Vegas this weekend to view UFC 178 on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. But the high school football version of a heavyweight title fight in the Octagon takes place 15 minutes west tonight at sold out Fertitta Field.
Defending national champion and USA Today’s current No. 1 ranked team St. John Bosco (3-0) of Bellflower, Calif., faces No. 2 Bishop Gorman (5-0), which began the season rated No. 1, at 6 p.m. in a game that will be nationally televised by ESPN.
The fact the game is on the main ESPN network channel should tell you something about just how big the game is. It was originally slated to be shown on ESPNU, which has a much smaller national reach, but was switched to the main channel this week. Meanwhile, a game featuring defending Mountain West champion Fresno State and New Mexico is being shown on ESPN2.
It has been almost two years since St. John Bosco last lost a game, 13-10, to Long Beach Poly in the 2012 CIF Southern Section playoffs. Since then Jason Negro’s Braves have rattled off 19 straight wins including an impressive 20-14 victory over famed Concord De La Salle in the California State Open Division championship game at the Home Depot Center last December.
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The fact the Braves are back at the top spot says a lot about the coaching of Negro, a former prep teammate at St. John Bosco with a placekicker named Nomar Garciaparra, who wisely decided to focus on baseball later at Georgia Tech.
Negro had to replace five starters on his defense that landed Pac-12 scholarships in defensive ends Malik Dorton (USC) and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner (UCLA), linebacker Chandler Leniu (Cal) and defensive backs Jaleel Wadood (UCLA) and Naijiel Hale (Washington). Another DB, Chandler Hawkins, went to Navy. And he also had to replace his best offensive lineman, giant 6-foot-5, 370-pound Damien Mama, who is starting as a true freshman for USC, and wide receiver Shay Fields, who already has 27 catches and two touchdowns in four games at Colorado.
But St. John Bosco does return standout quarterback Josh Rosen (6-4, 210), rated the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect by Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network’s Lemming Report who will enroll at midyear at UCLA, as well as explosive junior running back Sean McGrew. And the Braves have their share of FBS-caliber line recruits led by Zach Robertson (6-5, 308), Eric Golston (6-1, 300) and Matt Katnik (6-4, 290).
St. John Bosco opened its season with a 63-14 victory over one of the top teams in Hawaii, Honolulu St. Louis, and followed that up with a 48-3 victory over Norwalk. The Braves then scored 35 unanswered points in the second half to put away defending Oregon 6A champion Portland Central Catholic, 42-14, two weeks ago and have had an extra week to prepare for the Gaels.
Bishop Gorman will be attempting to defeat its third team currently ranked in the national Super 25 by USA Today. The Gaels previously defeated No. 24 Anaheim Servite and Oregon-bound QB Travis Waller, 48-27, and No. 16 Bingham, the defending Utah 5A champ, 23-20. Gorman also defeated two highly-ranked teams from southern California, Corona Centennial, 43-42, and Santa Margarita, 41-10.
“It’s a great opportunity to play such a highly ranked team,” Bishop Gorman safety Nicco Fertitta, who has committed to Notre Dame, said. “But at the end rankings don’t mean anything. All that matters is who comes out swinging, who is the tougher team on the side of the ball. I think people will see that Bishop Gorman is the tougher team.”
The Gaels are led offensively by sophomore quarterback Tate Martell, who committed to Washington prior to the eighth grade, and TE/DE Alize Jones, the nation’s No. 1 tight end prospect who ironically will be catching passes next year from Rosen for the Bruins.
“I told him we’re not teammates yet, so when I get on defense I’m coming to knock your head off,” Jones said. “He just laughs it off and says he’s going to try and make me miss. … He’s a great player.”