Whicker: St. John Bosco’s defense has that playoff look

BELLFLOWER — Scoreboards are everywhere. There’s a shiny high-def video board on the west end of Panish Family Stadium. You can’t ignore it.

But there were nights, even at St. John Bosco, where a bunch of talented teens got hypnotized by it.

“Unfortunately we play the scoreboard too much at times,” said Chris King, the Braves’ defensive coordinator. “We were up 35-0 over East St. Louis and the next thing you know, they’ve scored 26. We held Orange Lutheran to six at halftime and they wound up scoring a few in the second half (in a 49-25 win).

“But the one thing about them is, when the heat is on they tend to rise up.”

The heat was supposed to come from Servite Friday night, in the regular-season finale. Instead, the Braves dropped a few early hints that this game would be played at room temperature.

Cornerback Tayvion Beasley brought a big hit against receiver Mikey Welsh on the second play of the game. Deven Bryant sacked Noah Fifita on the first series and dictated a punt.

Servite’s Tetairoa McMillan, the outrageously talented receiver/cornerback, was barely more involved than the guys with the first-down sticks. It wasn’t the typical Trinity League light show, but it was the type of no-frills, 24-10 victory that coaches want to see on the eve of playoffs.

“This is going to be a sprint to the finish,” head coach Jason Negro said. “When you play defense like that, you’ve got a shot.”

The sprint is the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs, which will look a lot like the Trinity League playoffs. Mater Dei is No. 1 nationally, of course, and this game would help decide who No. 2 and No. 3 are.

Looming over Friday night was the prospect of a rematch in the Division I semifinals. It’s sort of like men’s tennis the past 15 or so years. You can maybe handle either Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, but not two of them back-to-back.

“Part of me felt we were being baited a little bit,” King said, laughing. “There have  been years when we lost the regular season to Mater Dei and then beat them in the playoffs. You’re always thinking that you’re going to  play them again in a few weeks.

“It didn’t affect how hard we played tonight, though. We haven’t lost to them since 2011. These kids are rivals anyway. They’ve known each other for years, going back to youth football, club football, 7-on-7 games. All of our guys have known Noah and T-Mac forever, and we have some guys who were at Servite before. So they’re always competing, and it always comes out.”

The Friars’ only touchdown came after Bosco fumbled on its 19-yard-line. They got a field goal on a drive that started on Bosco’s 42. Their other seven possessions ended in six punts and an interception, and the big play never materialized.

Servite coach Troy Thomas punted on fourth and 4 late in the fourth quarter, down 17-10. The Friars then used all their timeouts in hopes of retrieving the ball. But Katin Houser foiled that with a 39-yard touchdown to Chedon James.

Linebacker Nathan Finau was among the most visible Braves, but all of them kept Fifita from finding his rhythm. This is the same Servite team that put 37 points on Mater Dei.

“We wanted to make Noah play left-handed a little bit,” Negro said.

“And then we used the old Bill Belichick philosophy on T-Mac,” King said. “You put your best guy on their second-best guy, and then you double their best guy. No matter who you’re putting on him, it’s difficult to find a guy who’s doubled.”

The most anxious moments for Bosco came when quarterback Pierce Clarkson’s ankle was bent backwards in the second half. He splits time with Houser anyway, but he was on a literal roll, getting away from the rushers to throw touchdowns to a gloriously lonely Colin Chase (49 yards) and to Jabari Bates (50).

Clarkson was upright afterward, on his shoeless left ankle, and Negro expects him to be ready whenever the next game is.

But Clarkson’s slickest move came from his own 1-yard-line. He faked a handoff that duped every cellphone-carrying parent, as well as all 11 Friars, at least one of whom was making the sign for a safety. Clarkson kept the ball and squirted for 16 yards.

“That was amazing,” Negro said, “and we needed it.”

“When the back got tackled, I said, ‘I got ’em,”’ Clarkson said, grinning. “It’s a part of my game that I’m blessed to have, just like the way I can extend plays when I get into trouble.”

And maybe the Braves will go as far as their sense of jeopardy can take them.