The Mother Day football team defeated Rancho Cucamonga 39-6 in the Battle of the Finals Saturday at Edison High in Huntington Beach. (Photo by Dan Albano, Orange County Archives/SCNG)
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HUNTINGTON BEACH — Mater Dei’s football program got a glimpse Saturday of first-year coach Frank McManus, a handful of new assistants and steady, four-year quarterback Elijah Brown.
If the Kings’ performance in the Battle of the Beaches is any indication, prepare for a concerted effort, teamwork and execution.
Mater Dei went on a 7-0 run for the first time since 2019 with a 39-6 win over Edison High against Rancho Cucamonga to capture the coveted passing game.
The Monarchs, ranked No. 1 in the nation in various preseason polls, survived a scare in pool play over Warren (21-19) before defeating Orange Lutheran (28-13) and eventual champion Mission Viejo (25-0) in the quarterfinals. and semi-finals respectively.
“I’m proud of them,” McManus said of his players. “There was a very business-like nature there. They were excited after the game, but they went in quietly. They realize this is more than just this moment. We’re going to have a great season.”
“Big picture-wise, about Game 1, it’s (Corona’s) centenary,” he added.
For the first time since 1988, the Monarchs are being drafted by someone other than Bruce Rollinson as their head coach.
McManus took over after Rollinson surprisingly announced at the end of last season that he would be returning for 2023.
McManus’ coaching style was on display for all to see Saturday. He engaged the players throughout the day. He roared into the dugout, cheered the players on and quickly posed for a few photos.
At the Warren game, McManus joked with the officials and opponents and playfully pounded the floor.
“I don’t think I have to change anything other than let the coaches do what they do, let the kids show their natural talent and be themselves,” he said.
Brown figured himself in the finals.
The recent Stanford commitment threw five TDs to four different receivers. Lined up in the slot, Ajon Byrant, and a junior running back Jordan Davison and emerging sophomore wide receivers Kayden Dixon-Wyatt and Jonah Smith threw to two senior running backs.
Mater Dei’s offense falls under new offensive coordinator Eric Ricigno, replacing Taylor Kelly.
Running backs Nathaniel Frazier and Marcus Brown were among the targets seen earlier in the contest.
“It was definitely a disaster today,” McManus said. “Trying to get a first down was a big thing. We wanted to have success in the first down … and take what defenses gave us instead of just going straight for big yardage plays.
Mater Day’s defense, led by veteran coordinator Eric Johnson, got an interception from sophomore cornerback Corey Lavender in the end. The drive led to a long TD strike from Brown to Smith as the Royals opened up a 26-0 lead.
In the semifinals, junior cornerback Darius Dixon played well against Mission Viejo.
“It’s one voice that composes this defense, and we all know our roles,” McManus said of Johnson. “My job is to make it last another five years, but we’re going one year at a time.”
The Royals’ coaching staff includes former JCera coach Scott McKnight, who now heads special teams.
Former Saddleback coach Glenn Campbell is leading the running backs.
Mater Dei was not at full strength. Cornerback Zabien Brown and wide receiver Jack Ressler didn’t play, but Mater Dei rebounded from last week’s USC tournament semifinal loss to Warren.
Next week, the Monarchs finish their season at the Mission Viejo tournament.
“The staff is really coming together and the players are really coming together,” McManus said. “And it’s not as much ego as you see with players after the game. There’s a lot of togetherness, the same with the coaching staff.
More fighting will come on the beach cover. Please check back for updates.