In one of the top national high school football games of the regular season, Power 25 No. 2 Mater Dei will take on No. 4 Bishop Gorman on Friday night in Las Vegas.
Both teams are stocked with budding college football prospects. Bishop Gorman receiver Zachariah Branch, a 2023 USC wide receiver commit, will be the top rated recruit on the field on Friday. 247Sports.com ranks Branch as the No. 10 prospect nationally in his class. Six Mater Dei juniors are ranked in 247Sports.com's top 247 prospect list in the class of 2024. Quarterback Elijah Brown headlines that group.
Below are six talking points to the game with input from Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson.
THE BACK END OF BISHOP GORMAN'S DEFENSE IS LOADED
When watching film on Bishop Gorman this week, the Gaels linebacking corp and secondary have made Rollinson say "wow."
"That's where I see their talent," he said.
Three Bishop Gorman senior defensive backs are committed to Power Five schools in safety Kodi Decambra (Oregon), corner Justyn Rhett (Georgia) and corner Jeremiah Hughes (LSU). At linebacker, senior Jonah Leaea has received scholarship offers from Arizona, Boise State and Cal and Palaie Faoa is committed to Boston College. Senior Jamih Otis, another 'backer, is committed to the University of Hawaii.
"I'm very impressed with what they do on defense overall," Rollinson said. "They fly around. They remind me a lot of my own defense. They're well coached and they have guys that can match up."
On paper, Mater Dei's wide receivers aren't as explosive as in year's past. Junior wide out Jack Ressler will have his work cut out going up against such a stout defense. He's a definite X-factor for the Monarchs.
BIG TEST FOR BROWN
Brown hasn't been particularly challenged in many games throughout his career. The poised 6-foot-2, 180-pounder is 18-0 as a starter at Mater Dei and of those games, only two have been decided by one score or less.
This week has the potential to be different though. Rollinson called Brown going up against the Bishop Gorman defense a "chess match."
This game should be tougher than most for Brown, but Rollinson, with 329 career wins over his 34 seasons as coach, expects him to be well protected.
"I think we're OK up front," he said. "Not that they're chump change, I've just got a great offensive line."
BRANCH IS A POTENTIAL GAME BREAKER
All week in practice, Mater Dei's defense has been focused on stopping Branch.
"He's the elephant in the room," Rollinson said. "I've had players like him that can absolutely turn a football game whether it's on a punt or kick return or a deep ball. We've got every possible way to defend him ready."
Last season as a junior, Branch caught 48 passes for 1,094 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also returned two punts for scores. It's easy to see why Mater Dei plans to pay him so much attention.
One other receiver has the Monarchs' attention as well.
"We're also nervous about Trech Kekahuna," Rollinson added. "He's a great route runner who's very quick. He's their second guy and we've got to deal with him."
NO SURPRISES FROM BISHOP GORMAN QUARTERBACK
In his sophomore season, Bishop Gorman quarterback Micah Alejado completed 72.5 percent of his passes for 2,699 yards, 31 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
With two offers from Hawaii and Portland State, Alejado isn't currently being aggressively recruited, but his talent is obvious. He'll challenge Mater Dei's defense.
"That kid is a good quarterback," Rollinson said. "He can run too and when plays break down, he's great at finding guys, so we have to stay in coverage. We're going to have to contain him. It's going to be difficult."
BISHOP GORMAN HAS VERY STRONG SPECIAL TEAMS PLAY
Gaels' head coach Brent Browner is heavily involved with his squad's special teams units. It shows, according to Rollinson.
"That group is really solid," Rollinson said. "Their kickoff, their kickoff return, it's very well coached, very well designed. They have different ways of trapping you on returns. The special teams battle will be a good matchup."
Last season Mater Dei opened on the road, out of state against a Power 25 opponent and rolled Duncanville (Texas), 45-3. In 2018, the Gaels' first road game was also out of state, at Bishop Gorman in fact, with a similar winning score, 42-0.
Rollinson has stressed all week to his team that past games have nothing to do with Friday's matchup.
"What happened in Texas has no bearing on the Gorman game and since we've already played Gorman, the element of surprise, that's all gone," Rollinson said. "...They have a little bit of a vendetta shall we say and they're extremely talented."