Servite linebacker Doug Middleton stepped in front of the pass, cradled it in his arms and skirted the sidelines for a 75-yard touchdown.
Friar fans waved their arms and stomped their feet and delighted in the silver-and-black confetti showered upon them. They had waited what seemed like eons for this moment.
Middleton's interception return gave seventh-ranked Servite a four-point lead with 3 minutes 9 seconds left in the third quarter, and top-ranked Mater Dei was reeling.
More than 15 minutes remained in the game, but the Monarchs' 11-game unbeaten streak against the Friars was in danger.
That's when Mater Dei quarterback Matt Leinart, who threw the interception, bounced back, rallying the Monarchs with two of his three touchdown passes in the final two minutes of the third quarter as Mater Dei won its Serra League opener, 31-21, Saturday night before an estimated crowd of 9,500 at Cal State Fullerton.
For those counting at home, that's 12 consecutive games for the Monarchs against Servite without a loss, dating to 1988. The teams played to a scoreless tie in 1992.
"I looked at Matt [after the interception] and said, 'Hey, we'll come right back,' " Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson said. "It wasn't like they were stopping our passing game."
After Middleton's touchdown gave Servite a 21-17 lead, Leinart came out firing. He completed consecutive passes to Jeff Diulio for 24 yards and Brown Faavae for 30. Following an incompletion and a short run, Leinart found Diulio in the corner of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown pass and a 24-21 advantage.
Diulio finished with nine catches for 130 yards.
"I knew I couldn't keep my head down [after the interception] because I had to run the offense," said Leinart, who completed 23 of 33 passes for 299 yards.
Leinart wasn't done. Servite running back Justin Domineck fumbled two plays later--the Friars committed five turnovers for the game--and Mater Dei linebacker Trevor Hovarter recovered at the Friar 20-yard line. Three plays later, Leinart scrambled to his right and threw across his body to wide-open receiver Julian Petit for a 32-yard touchdown and a comfortable 31-21 lead.
Servite (6-2, 0-1) mounted one final threat, but Mater Dei defensive back Damian Scott intercepted an Adam Ernst pass to erase any lingering hope for the Friars.
With games remaining against Santa Margarita and Bellflower St. John Bosco, the Monarchs (7-1, 1-0) now control their own destiny in the Serra League race.
"We're using live bullets in this league and we shot the first one," Rollinson said.