Mater Dei's offensive line holds off St. Bonaventure defenders as… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)
Hide the children, close the shades, batten down the hatches — a grueling five-week football survival test begins Friday night.
It's called playing in the Trinity League.
"It's five weeks of sheer, unadulterated fun," said Bruce Rollinson, Santa Ana Mater Dei's coach. "Last man standing."
The opening games should produce large crowds and intense play: Bellflower St. John Bosco (5-0) vs. Santa Margarita (3-2) at Saddleback College; San Juan Capistrano JSerra (5-0) vs. Orange Lutheran (5-0) at Orange Coast College; Mater Dei (5-0) vs. Anaheim Servite (3-2) at Angel Stadium.
From top to bottom, the league has never been stronger. All six teams are in The Times' top-25 rankings.
"It reminds me of the old Angelus League days," Rollinson said. "I told my kids, 'The only guarantee you got is they're going to take three from the Trinity League for the playoffs and you better figure out how to get into those three."
With the strong nonleague performance, the Trinity League will surely get a fourth team into the Pac-5 Division playoffs as one of the division's two at-large berths. A fifth team is possible, but coaches have learned the hard way not to rely on a committee for their postseason hopes in the Pac-5. Just ask Encino Crespi, which was 8-2 last season and wasn't picked out of the Serra League.
Rollinson, in his 25th season, will be honored before the Servite game by Mater Dei for his service to the school. He graduated from Mater Dei in 1967 and has been part of the school for much of his adult life.
"It's just clicked by," he said.
Although St. John Bosco and Mater Dei rank as the league favorites and meet Nov. 1, the five weeks of games could produce some surprises. Teams have to be ready with their best two-point conversion plays if games go to overtime.
Servite is the only league team to have lost in the last three weeks. But the Friars' defeat was to the state's No. 1 team, Concord De La Salle, 35-10, on Saturday night.
"Was this good preparation? Absolutely, 100%," Servite Coach A.J. Gass said. "They're the same caliber team we're going to see the next five weeks. Power running, almost mistake-free football."
On the strength of the league, Gass said, "Mater Dei likes to pound it like De La Salle. JSerra and St. John Bosco will put it in the air more. Orange Lutheran runs the option and Santa Margarita is physical too. There are no soft games in this league. Every game is going to be tough like this, and we know that."
Every team has a star player or two. Mater Dei has defensive back Jonathan Lockett and quarterback Chase Forrest. Servite has quarterback Travis Waller and linebacker Jack Savage.
JSerra has relied on receiver-defensive back Dante Pettis. Orange Lutheran has defensive end Keisean Lucier-South. Santa Margarita has receiver Kyle Sweet. St. John Bosco is loaded everywhere, but quarterback Josh Rosen is the trigger man.
Get ready for a wild ride, with twists and turns and many great games.