The Trinity League football teams were the class of the nation during the regular season. Three of its six members were ranked in the USA Today preseason top 25 and another made it onto the same prestigious list at the end of league play.
The Southern Section playoff committee was impressed as well, selecting Santa Margarita and Servite as the two at-large representatives for the Pac-5 Division playoffs, giving the Trinity League five playoff teams for the first time in section history.
It seemed an easy conclusion that the league would be well represented deep into the playoffs as well, maybe even landing four teams in the semifinals.
But the semifinals arrived last week and only one team from the Trinity League was still alive: league champion St. John Bosco. The remaining four teams had been eliminated in the first two rounds.
Santa Margarita and Servite, the two at-large selections, were knocked out in the first round. The Eagles were downed by Mission League champion Crespi of Encino, 45-13, while Servite was edged by Moore League champion Long Beach Poly, 34-33.
When we were rolling in the 90s, we had depth. These days, the kids spread themselves out. It’s not a one-horse show.
—Bruce Rollinson, Mater Dei Football Coach
Then came the second round and two more surprises. Mater Dei couldn’t get past Corona Centennial, a team the Monarchs had defeated by 20 points in the season opener back on August 30. And down the freeway at Saddleback College, JSerra was getting edged by Bishop Amat, the same team Santa Margarita had defeated in its season opener.
Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson agrees that the rough-and-tumble trek through Trinity League competition likely played a factor in the underperformance of four of the league’s five playoff entrants.
“There’s no doubt,” he says. “It’s a great league to play in, it’s physical and it’s great for spectators, but I said this even when we were in the Angelus League. You just hope you don’t get any more banged up than normal.”
Rollinson says the change in weather and the arrival of the flu and cold season also may have been a factor in the poor showing by Trinity League teams; at least it was for Mater Dei. One of Rollinson’s key players had “borderline bronchitis” but still played through the illness against Corona Centennial.
Rollinson also points to a pair of close losses early in league play against St. John Bosco and JSerra, which dropped the Monarchs into third place in the league standings and forced them to open the playoffs on the road at Westlake, a team Mater Dei edged by one point during the nonleague portion of the schedule. The Monarchs beat Westlake by 21 points the second time around, but then had to get past Corona Centennial, which has grown familiar with Mater Dei after facing them numerous times over the years.
Beating the Huskies twice in one year is not a simple task.
“There’s nobody to blame but us,” Rollinson says. “If we don’t want to be in that situation, than we have to play better [in league play].”
Another factor, Rollinson says, is a lack of depth within his program. The emergence of other Orange County private schools in the last 20 years, such as Orange Lutheran, Santa Margarita and JSerra, has left the talent pool shallower than ever.
“When we were rolling in the 90s, we had depth,” he says. “These days, the kids spread themselves out. It’s not a one-horse show.”