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Sondheimer: In battle of top two, Mater Dei earns the win with a twist

·4 min read
Ryan Di Dodo, Mater Dei's holder on kicks, broke his wrist completing a two-point conversion pass.
Ryan Di Dodo, Mater Dei's holder on kicks, broke his wrist completing a key two-point conversion pass in a 46-37 win over Servite on Saturday night. (Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Never before has a teenager standing on the sideline with his arm in a sling from a broken wrist looked more content than punter and holder Ryan Di Dodo of Santa Ana Mater Dei on Saturday night at a sold out Santa Ana Stadium.

"It was definitely worth it — 100%," he said of his injury.

It was the fourth quarter of a high school football game that was described by one participant as "one for the ages." Di Dodo had his shoulder pads off as No. 1 Santa Ana Mater Dei was about to close out a 46-37 victory over No. 2 Anaheim Servite.

"Aren't you the holder?" a sportswriter asked.

"Yes," Di Dodo said.

He explained how he came through with the play of the game — scooping up the snap off the ground on an extra-point attempt, rolling left and throwing the ball to linebacker Malaki Te'o to complete a two-point conversion pass with 1:04 left in the third quarter. It gave Mater Dei a 39-31 advantage in a roller-coaster game that was tied four times: at 10, 17, 24 and 31 points.

"I yelled, 'Fire.' I just threw it," Di Dodo said.

Then his left wrist was broken while he was tackled.

"How about my holder?" Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson chuckled afterward. "He breaks his wrist on a two-point play. That was that little bit of cushion we needed. Then we had to hold on."

Not until an interception by Mater Dei sophomore Zabien Brown with 1:27 left could the Monarchs breathe a sigh of relief. You have to go back to the 2015 season for the last time a Southern Section team other than Bellflower St. John Bosco has given the Monarchs the kind of scare Servite (8-1) inflicted.

"We've never had a game where we fought back and someone has fought back against us," Mater Dei receiver CJ Williams said. "I've played in some hard games, but that one was one for the ages."

When the lights went out at 11 p.m. because of a stadium timer issue, it added another unforgettable moment to a series of them. The crowd of more than 9,000 pulled out their cell phones and had fun as if they were at a concert.

Mater Dei clinched the Trinity League championship and the No. 1 seed for the Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. Most importantly, the Monarchs will avoid playing Servite again until the final at the earliest. The Friars play at No. 3 St. John Bosco on Friday to close out the regular season.

"It was two great teams and a lot of great players," Servite coach Troy Thomas said. "I think we're going to learn a lot. I think we have a real good team and a ticket to the Division 1 playoffs."

The vast amount of individual talent on display made it a unique opportunity for everyone involved to gauge their competitiveness and learn how they would perform when challenged by someone as good as or better than them.

Sophomore quarterback Elijah Brown of Mater Dei was sacked by hard-charging linebacker Jacob Manu and heavyweight wrestler Mason Graham, but when he saw single coverage on his top receivers, he burned the Friars repeatedly. Brown completed 17 of 23 passes for 247 yards. Williams caught eight passes for 135 yards and one touchdown. Running back Quincy Craig carried the ball four times and scored four touchdowns. Running back Raleek Brown rushed for 163 yards and one touchdown.

For Servite, quarterback Noah Fifita completed 26 of 41 passes for 306 yards. Receiver Tetairoa McMillan had 15 receptions for 163 yards and two touchdowns. He drew two pass interference penalties and engaged in repeated competitions with Mater Dei cornerback Cameron Sidney. It was inspiring to watch the two duel play after play. McMillan would help Sidney off the ground after a tackle, each showing respect for the other.

"I'll never forget this game," Sidney said. "This is one of the best games I've played in."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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