Mason Graham is a 15-year-old sophomore so new to playing defensive tackle for Anaheim Servite that he didn’t know how to react after delivering the first two sacks of his high school career in the final two minutes on Friday night to help the Friars pull out a 16-13 win over Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.
“That was exciting,” the 6-foot-2, 260-pounder said.
“He’s going to be real good,” coach Troy Thomas said.
Servite (4-1) was clinging to its three-point lead after Notre Dame’s Sean Guyton made an interception in the end zone with 5:05 left, giving the Knights (4-1) one final chance to make a comeback. And sophomore quarterback Zachary Siskowic seemed up for the challenge.
Even though he endured two roughing-the-passer penalties and was limping after another painful hit going out of bounds, Siskowic moved the Knights into Servite territory. That’s when Graham, a former linebacker, came through with two sacks. Another sophomore, Maxx Silao, dropped Siskowic for a 15-yard loss, and the Friars were able to prevail.
“They really saved me,” sophomore quarterback Noah Fifita said.
Fifita completed 16 of 24 passes for 193 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Zedakiah Centers. But it was the interception that he intends to learn most from.
“I was trying to force it to seal the game,” he said. “I got to take the short routes.”
What the game revealed was how many good sophomores Servite has as it tries to become relevant again in the Trinity League. A fourth sophomore, receiver Tetairoa McMillan, is as good as they come. A standout volleyball player who also plays basketball, he’s 6-4 and doesn’t drop anything. He caught six passes for 97 yards and made several key catches to keep drives alive.
“He’s one of a kind,” Fifita said. “He makes my life a lot easier.”
Coaches no longer shy away from starting a sophomore at quarterback. The days of worrying about lack of varsity experience are over, because sophomores have received the kind of sophisticated training from private coaches and participating in youth games that make them more than prepared to be thrown into the fire.
Fifita and Siskowic are examples of the new era in quarterbacks.
“I think he’s exceptional for anybody,” Notre Dame defensive coordinator Joe McNab said of Fifita. “He’d be good if he were a junior or senior.”
Thomas praised Siskowic, who he got to know when he stayed with him during a youth football all-star game.
“We hit him hard and he kept playing,” Thomas said.
There was no scoring in the second half of a game matching top-10 teams.
Siskowic was six of six passing for 48 yards in the first half but faced a more intense pass rush in the second half. Anthony Spearman rushed for 74 yards in 15 carries.
The sophomore quarterbacks showed the poise of seniors in the first half with clutch plays under pressure. Servite held a 16-13 halftime lead after a two-yard touchdown run by Kyle Bandy with 39 seconds left in the half. Siskowic directed Notre Dame on two time-consuming scoring drives and had a 13-yard touchdown run.
Now Servite must get ready for the test of all tests - consecutive games against No. 2 Bellflower St. John Bosco, No. 1 Santa Ana Mater Dei and No. 5 San Juan Capistrano JSerra.
“I’m excited,” Fifita said. “I can’t wait. Not a lot of people are going to be behind us, but we have our Servite community.”
And some pretty good sophomores.