There's little doubt that 10 years from now, when high school football fans and experts look back and debate how good Bellflower St. John Bosco's team was in 2013, the verdict will be near unanimous: the best in Southern California history.
Even before Saturday night's 20-14 victory over Concord De La Salle in the CIF state championship Open Division bowl game, the Braves (16-0) were receiving rave reviews.
Outgoing Santa Margarita Coach Harry Welch said the Braves were the best team he'd seen since he started coaching in 1965. Mission Hills Alemany Coach Dean Herrington said the Braves "should be in the Pac-12, not the Pac-5." Former Woodland Hills Taft Coach Troy Starr said that from a talent standpoint, St. John Bosco resembled the great Carson and Banning teams from the 1980s.
But all that would have been forgotten if St. John Bosco had not found a way to defeat De La Salle, a program that had won 67 consecutive games against California teams and four consecutive Open Division bowl championships.
A record crowd of 16,791 went to StubHub Center for three bowl games, with more than 12,000 staying around to see one of the best football matchups in state history. St. John Bosco's stars came through, including quarterback Josh Rosen passing for 200 yards and two touchdowns, sophomore running back Sean McGrew rushing for 143 yards, and Jaleel Wadood catching five passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
"It's a great moment," Coach Jason Negro said. "From last January, almost for 12 months now, everybody has been saying we should be state champs. A lot of expectations. Our kids did a tremendous job. I'm real proud of them."
It only figured that in the moment when victory or defeat was still undecided, an unsung hero emerged. With 2 minutes 15 seconds left and De La Salle driving, junior lineman Gavin Windes recognized a screen play in the making, tipped up a pass from Chris Williams and made the interception at the 38-yard line on fourth down.
"It was awesome," Windes said. "So many emotions are going through me. When I felt it, I held on to it with all my heart."
Finding a weakness for St. John Bosco is very difficult. The Braves' offensive and defensive lines had size and strength. Rosen became one of the best junior quarterbacks in the state. McGrew blossomed into an all-star running back, using his speed to score touchdowns in bunches. The linebackers and secondary were as good as they come. And don't forget about kicker Reid Budrovich, who had two field goals Saturday.
In the course of the season, there were challenges. When Rosen suffered a shoulder injury, for two games the Braves seemed beatable. But backup quarterback Andrew Katnik was good enough to step in and manage the offense.
Considering St. John Bosco went through the powerful Trinity League unbeaten and won its first Pac-5 Division title, kudos go to a coaching staff that successfully convinced its players to focus on one game at a time. That is one of the hardest things to do in high school football.
It was a long, sometimes exhausting, yearlong journey for the Braves.
"I can go out now for Christmas," Negro said. "My kids are missing me."
Yes, Negro will have a couple of weeks to relax and refresh. Then it's time for 2014, and with Rosen, McGrew and several linemen returning, St. John Bosco will try to do it all over again.