Orange County: Servite, Mater Dei renew rivalry on the big stage

Servite and Mater Dei renew their 50-year rivalry tonight at Angel Stadium with first place on the line in the Trinity League.

Servite is ranked No. 1 in the ESPNLA top 25, and Mater Dei is ranked No. 12. Both teams have loads of momentum. Servite (7-0, 2-0) has won 18 in a row, including last season's Pac-5 title and State Division II Bowl Championship -- as well as a 30-20 victory over the Monarchs.

That victory, in which Cody Fajardo passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, ended a 20-year winless streak for the Friars. Their best showing over the previous two decades was a 0-0 tie in 1992.

This year, Servite lacks a player with the offensive charisma of Fajardo, who is now at Nevada Reno, but the defense seems to be even better led by linebackers Matt Inman and Butch Pauu, lineman Jody Thomas and defensive backs Jordan Jones and Karlton Dennis. Servite's first unit has allowed only six touchdowns this season, and two of those were on drives of 22 yards or less.

The Friars' special teams figure to gives Servite an advantage as well. They have blocked three punts in the last two weeks, all leading to touchdowns, and with strong-legged Connor Loftus -- he has kicked a 52-yard field goal already this season -- Servite figures to have the edge.

Still, Mater Dei (5-2, 2-0) has a dynamic offense led by the USC-bound tandem of quarterback Max Wittek and receiver Victor Blackwell. To make things tougher on Servite, Blackwell was held in check last week by Orange Lutheran, but Sedric Hill established himself as an excellent alternative, and Corbin Anderson made his season debut at running back and carried 18 times for 113 yards.

Mater Dei has won five in a row since season-opening losses to Carson and Corona Centennial, the latter by an embarrassing 44-13 margin.

As an added bonus, Servite's first varsity team -- a group of all juniors who won the 1960 Southern Section small schools championship -- will be honored.

The following season, Servite played Mater Dei for the first time. Mater Dei won, 19-13, and won the next two meetings as well. The 1962 game, a 13-12 victory by Mater Dei, kept Servite out of the playoffs. In 1964, Servite exacted its revenge: Mater Dei was undefeated through five games and had outscored opponents 123-0, but Servite scored a stunning 13-0 victory; it was Mater Dei's only loss of the season and even though the Monarchs outscored opponents that year, 194-13, that singular loss kept them from the playoffs.

Back then, only league champions advanced to the playoffs. Now, the top three teams advance, and the winner of this game will guarantee an automatic berth into the Pac-5 playoffs.

Mater Dei leads the series, 32-15-2.

Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.