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Eric Sondheimer

A thriller in Santa Ana

September 20, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

It was exhausting and exhilarating sitting in the press box at Santa Ana Stadium on Friday night trying to keep track of every touchdown and every game-changing moment of another high school football classic involving Santa Ana Mater Dei and Corona Centennial.

In the end, No. 2-ranked Centennial (2-0) played effective defense in the second half against USC-bound quarterback Matt Barkley and relied on a four-touchdown performance from running back Arthur Burns to come away with a 47-35 victory over No. 3 Mater Dei (2-1).

Barkley, who wasn't sacked in his first seven games last season, went down three times, twice by defensive tackle Ben Letcher. He was also intercepted three times, twice by J.B. Austin. He finished with 414 yards passing and three touchdowns.

These two teams combined for a state-record 1,302 yards last season when Mater Dei won, 51-37, but this one was at times crazier and more entertaining because of the big plays.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, September 23, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
High school football: In Saturday's Sports section, the article on Friday's game between Santa Ana Mater Dei and Corona Centennial said that Centennial running back Arthur Burns scored four touchdowns. He had three, as did quarterback Taylor Martinez.

There was a 97-yard kickoff return by Ario Winston of Mater Dei. There was a 96-yard kickoff return by Ricky Marvray of Centennial. There was a 76-yard touchdown reception by Victor Blackwell of Mater Dei. Back and forth it went, with fans enthralled.

The game was producing so many memorable moments on offense that Mater Dei's 270-pound center, Bryan Kiernan, decided he needed some attention, so he intervened in the strangest play of the night, catching a screen pass from Barkley and running as if he were a running back. Mater Dei was penalized for an illegal catch.

Centennial held a 33-28 halftime lead on the strength of two touchdowns and 108 yards rushing from Burns, a 5-foot-10, 215-pound senior running back. He finished with 234 rushing.

The frantic first half was followed by a mostly quiet third quarter in which Centennial took control of the game with a 68-yard scoring drive on its first possession, with Burns scoring from the three for a 40-28 advantage.

One of Centennial's most dynamic players was Marvray, a senior receiver who has committed to UCLA. Besides displaying his speed on kickoff returns, he caught seven passes for 90 yards and delivered a crunching block that cleared the way for a 42-yard run by Burns.

College recruiters won't be waiting long to go after another receiver in this game, Blackwell, a quick sophomore who had receptions of 42, 76 and 20 yards.

There has never been a better time for bringing together top teams in non-league games. There's no more ducking tough opponents for football teams that aspire to be the best.

Credit the CIF state championship bowl games and the emphasis on strength of schedule in the selection process for forcing coaches to stop loading up on cupcake opponents.

It has helped create the excitement associated with top teams facing off long before the playoffs begin, such as Friday night's matchups of Centennial and Mater Dei and No. 4 Encino Crespi beating No. 6 Anaheim Servite, 21-20.

Next week, it's No. 7 Ventura St. Bonaventure (3-0) taking on the Celts (3-0). In three weeks, it's No. 1 Long Beach Poly playing St. Bonaventure. These are terrific matchups fueled by programs seeking recognition and respect.

Centennial's victory has huge bowl-game implications. By beating a team the stature of Mater Dei, the Huskies control their destiny. If they win out, they'll be a definite choice for the new open division bowl game or the Division I bowl.

And where does Centennial keep coming up with offensive standouts? Ryan Bass, the team's touchdown machine last season who gained 328 yards and scored four times against Mater Dei, has moved on to Arizona, and his replacement, Burns, was breaking tackles and carrying defenders all night.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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