by Steve Fryer
Photo Credit: Mike Ortiz
BELLFLOWER >> The Mater Dei-Servite football rivalry has been among the hotter Orange County high school sports rivalries for decades.
They have never played each other in a CIF championship football game.
That will happen next week.
Servite did its part with a 40-21 win over St. John Bosco in a CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinal Friday at St. John Bosco High.
The Friars (11-2) will play Mater Dei (10-0) in the championship game Friday, Nov. 26 at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach.
Mater Dei defeated Centennial of Corona in the other Division 1 semifinal Friday.
The most recent Servite CIF football final was in 2010 when the Friars defeated Mission Viejo in the Pac-5 Division championship game.
Houston Thomas rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown that came on a 71-yard run in the second half. He also had an interception that set up another touchdown.
His father is Servite coach Troy Thomas, who has been around the Mater Dei-Servite rivalry for many years. Houston is very aware of the history of it, including his opportunity to play in the first Mater Dei-Servite CIF final.
“It’s really exciting,” Houston said. “We wanted to get them again.”
St. John Bosco finished 10-2.
Servite looked listless in a 24-10 loss to St. John Bosco three weeks ago in the final week of the regular season. That game happened six days after Servite lost to Mater Dei 46-37.
Unlike in that loss to St. John Bosco, Servite was the more physical and energetic team in the second half this time.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Troy Thomas said. “I think we’re a really good team that hadn’t play their best yet, and I just felt like we were due.”
Friars quarterback Noah Fifita went into the contest averaging 259 passing yards a game and 28 passing attempts a game. Fifita, a senior committed to Arizona, on Friday threw only eight passes, completing six for 47 yards. He did not throw a pass until 3:10 was left in the second quarter, Servite’s 17th offensive play.
He did rush 17 times for 128 yards and three touchdowns.
Frifita said the Friars had hoped for a second chance against St. John Bosco.
“As soon as the brackets came out, we circled this one,” Fifita said. “We were embarrassed how we played last time, offensively at least, and we wanted to come out and show that was a fluke.”
Houston Thomas felt the Friars were far more ready to play St. John Bosco in Friday’s rematch.
“I just think we had a great week of preparation,” Thomas said. “The game plan was great.”
The Friars had a 17-14 lead at halftime.
Lucas Gimenez kicked a 20-yard field goal, his second of the night, on Servite’s second half-opening possession to push the lead to 20-14. St. John Bosco made it a one-point game on a 78-yard touchdown run by Rayshon Luke.
Thomas followed with his 71-yard run to make it a 27-21 lead for Servite late in the third quarter. Early in the fourth quarter, Thomas made a leaping interception at midfield and returned it to the St. John Bosco 20. It was his first high school football interception.
Servite’s Ethan Scaffidi scored on a 23-yard, end-around run for a 34-21 lead.
Servite defensive lineman Mason Graham forced a fumble on a sack, with Vaka Amasio-Hansen making the recovery at the Bosco 10. Three plays later Fifita scored on a 1-yard run to put the game away.
MaxPreps’ national rankings have St. John Bosco at No. 4 and Servite at No. 7. Mater Dei, which beat both St. John Bosco and Servite in Trinity League play, is ranked No. 1.
Servite scored on its first possession. Starting at their 37, the Friars ran 10 plays, all running plays, with Fifita scoring on a 5-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 4:28 to go in the first quarter.
Having gone three-and-out on its game-opening possession, St. John Bosco’s second possession was a quick one, too.
After three plays netted 3 yards, the Braves were lined up to punt. The snap squirmed through punter George Wiles-Koehler’s legs. He pounced on the ball at the St. John Bosco 5.
Two plays later Fifita scored on a 4-yard run that gave Servite a 14-0 lead with 2:54 left in the first quarter.
St. John Bosco quickly replied with its first touchdown. Junior quarterback Pierce Clarkson passed to Luke on a wheel route, with Luke making the catch at the Servite 30 before running unchallenged down the right sideline for a 37-yard touchdown that make it 14-7 with 1:17 remaining in the first quarter.
The Braves tied the game in the second quarter. A 16-yard touchdown pass from Katin Houser, who rotates at quarterback with Clarkson, to Chedon James finished a 12-play, 75-yard drive for a 14-14 tie.
Servite regained the lead, 17-14, on a 38-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in the half.