SANTA ANA — It may technically be just another game on the schedule, but Mater Dei is not just any football team.
The national powerhouse didn’t build its reputation over night, it’s something that championships and wave after wave of elite players have developed over the decades.
Santa Monica’s recent rise to prominence doesn’t make them a powerhouse just yet, but Thursday’s matchup at Santa Ana Stadium against the Monarchs may help them along that path.
“You already know about the legacy behind it,” Samohi head coach Travis Clark said of Mater Dei. “But, I will say that their weakness is that they are human beings, and kids at that. It’s also our weakness, so the same goes.”
It’s that perceived weakness that Clark hopes to tap into as his Vikings prepare for the biggest stage they’ve performed on during his four years as head coach.
“Obviously it’s going to be one of our toughest games of the season,” Clark said. “But we’re not looking at it any differently than anybody else.”
Though excited, Clark and Co. have something that even gives longtime Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson reason for pause — an explosive offense.
Led by USC commit Sebastian LaRue and transfer quarterback Ryan Barbarin, the passing game has Rollinson thinking this matchup may not be the mismatch it appears to be.
After watching tape of Samohi’s first two games of the season — both blowout wins — Rollinson is most impressed by the Vikings’ discipline on blocking and alignments.
“It lends itself to being well coached,” Rollinson said. “It’s nothing fancy … they just execute it very well.”
In particular, it’s LaRue and his standing as one of the elite play-makers on the West Coach that has the old coach game planning away.
After watching last week’s 53-12 win over Palisades, Rollinson noted that the Vikings are capable of running the ball, too. Voters noticed as well, ranking Samohi No. 5 in the latest CIF-Southern Section Western Division poll. Mater Dei is ranked No. 9 in the elite Pac-5.
Running back Will Taylor led Samohi last week at Pali with over 100 yards and three touchdowns as Samohi ran for six scores on the ground — a stark departure from the first game against Redondo Union when LaRue and newcomer Jason King combined for a trio of receiving touchdowns.
With two distinctly different games to go on, Rollinson said that his Monarchs “have to be prepared.”
Though 2-0 on the season, Mater Dei is coming off a decidedly un-Monarch-like season. To the surprise of high school insiders, Mater Dei went 4-6, missing the playoffs for the first time in years.
Hoping to buck that trend is senior Mater Dei quarterback Ryan McMahon, who struggled at times last season.
Rollinson likes the progression McMahon has made over the summer and has confidence in his 6-foot-2 signal caller’s ability to run what is traditionally a pro-style offense.
The Monarchs have started the season with momentum, even ending a three-year drought against Carson last week during a 48-13 rout.
Clark watched film from the game and didn’t see a blowout, per se. He saw a Carson team move the ball effectively between the 20-yard lines, but falter in the red zone time and again.
He doesn’t want to make that same mistake. Instead, he knows that his offense will have to score early to keep pace. Clark was his sly self when talking game planning, but admitted that it’s going to take big plays to pull off the upset.
“We’re not afraid,” Clark said. “We’re just excited.”
The game begins Thursday at 7 p.m. at Santa Ana College.