ALEXANDRIA, Va. — It’s fitting the nation’s consensus top-ranked high school football team is nicknamed Monarchs.
That’s a moniker befitting the Catholic Athletes for Christ Top 25 High School football rankings presented by Global Football, No. 1 team. The Monarchs of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California are officially the CAC Top 25 National Champions for the second time in four seasons.
All hail, the kings!
There isn’t even a doubt the CAC Top 25 final rankings would feature the undefeated and rarely tested Monarchs (12-0) would rest atop the rest of the heap.
There is one addition to the CAC 25 and that’s No. 25 Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, Calif.), which won the CIF Division 1-AA on Dec. 10, defeating Folsom, 33-21, in the final. The Dons re-enter the CAC 25 in a nick of time. They were in the preseason rankings back in August.
Otherwise, the top-24 teams did not shift positions.
Before we reveal the updated CAC Top 25, we’ll revisit the weekly feature called the Triple Option, which identifies two student-athletes, a coach and four wide-ranging games, including a state title tilt from Hawaii, worth noting over the holidays.
The players are state champions from California and Florida. This week’s coach completed championship run in Florida on Saturday night. As for the top games, we’ll visit Honolulu, Glendale, Ariz., Annapolis, Md., and San Antonio.
Player of the Week: Quarterback Luke Knight of No. 6 Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) and running back Lucky Sutton of No. 25 Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, Calif.). First, we’ll talk about Knight and his last-minute heroics.
Last weekend, the Jesuit Tigers were all but done and time was ticking away. They trailed Pine Forest (Pensacola, Fla.) by 15 points (29-14) late in the third quarter of the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 6A final in Fort Lauderdale. That’s when Knight peeled off his jersey to reveal an “S” on his chest (think Superman) and a cape. The man of steel emerged and so did the sleepy Tigers.
Over the final 13-plus minutes, Knight tossed three touchdown passes to rally Jesuit to a thrilling 35-29 victory to claim the school’s first state title in more than a generation (actually 1968). Knight engineered the decisive drive late in their own 9-yard line. Five plays later, Knight’s 7-yard pass to wide receiver Jadyn Girard won it.
For the game, Knight completed 18-of-26 passes for 352 yards and three scores of 50, 28 and 7 yards. The Tigers scored the game’s final 21 points, beginning with Knight’s 50-yard strike to Junior Vandeross with 1:57 left in the third. Only 52 seconds into the fourth, Knight connected with Vandeross from 28 yards to reduce the deficit to 29-27. Knight and Girard won with 37 seconds left and senior RB Joquez tacked on the two-point conversion to close out the scoring.
In Mission Viejo, Calif., Sutton had a two-game stretch to remember in the CIF playoffs. Sutton capped his senior year, running for 232 yards and a TD on 30 carries (10 yards a pop!) when the No. 25 Dons stopped Folsom, 33-21, on Dec. 10 in the CIF Division 1-AA final at Saddleback College.
The Dons (12-2) captured their third state title in four attempts.
But in the CIF Southern Region final, Sutton rushed for a San Diego Section record 435 yards and scored seven TDs on 27 carries (16.1 yards a try) in a crazy 71-62 victory over Orange Lutheran on Dec. 3. Sutton’s team did all the scoring in the final three quarters. His rushing TDs came from 62, 45, 63, 75, 80 and 2 yards and he caught a six-yarder from QB Charlie Mirer, whose dad quarterbacked for several years in the NFL and at Notre Dame.
At 6-feet-1-inch, 205 pounds, Sutton committed over the summer to hometown San Diego State over West Point Army, San Jose State, Colorado State and Nevada. Sutton finished with 41 TDs and rushed for 2,612 yards in 14 games.
Coach of the Week: Matt Thompson of No. 3 Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.). Thompson, who completed his ninth season at the helm of the Jesuit Tigers (15-0), authored one of the greatest prep football stories in Hillsborough County history last Saturday.
Jesuit, which trailed by 15 points in the third quarter, never did panic and Thompson’s guiding hand led them to a come-from-behind 35-29 win over Pine Forest (Pensacola) in the Class 6A state championship game. It was the Tigers’ first state title since 1968.
Recently, Thompson led to the Tigers to region championships in 2015, ’16, ’18, ’19 and ’20 but never could advance out of the state semifinals. That all changed forever on a warm night in Fort Lauderdale. Thanks to the heroics of his sophomore signal-caller Luke Knight, who fired three TDs including the game-winner with 37 seconds left, the Tigers are ordering state championship rings.
Yet the game wasn’t over until senior LB A.J. Cottrill intercepted a pass with 27 seconds left to ice it.
This wasn’t Thompson’s first rodeo in the state final. He served at the Armwood (Seffner) defensive coordinator during the glory years and national rankings but this was the first time he prepared for a final as the head coach. Essentially, Thompson was a man with a plan and his team executed it.
Thompson’s team play with discipline and pride and that’s because he served in the United States Marine Corps. He was a sharp shooter and went to Panama and the Persian Gulf.
It took nearly six decades but the Tigers are champions. If the Catholic Athletes for Christ named a national coach of the year, Thompson would be the choice. He had that kind of year.
Games of the Week (All times are local and subject to change): The menu features one high school state championship game from the south Pacific, one All-America Game and two college bowl games.
Saint Louis School (Honolulu, Hawaii) vs. Kahuku (Hawaii), Thursday, 7 p.m.: The Hawaii Open Division will be decided this week at Skippa Diaz Stadium in Honolulu. Coach Ron Lee’s team is 6-3 after beating Mililani, 27-25, in last weekend’s semifinals. The Crusaders are back in the final for the fifth consecutive season, having won the last four. Kahuku is 8-0.
Boston College vs. East Carolina, Military Bowl, Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m.: The BC Eagles (6-6) squeak into a bowl game and one of two Catholic colleges that play football on the FBS level. The game will be played at the Naval-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Md., and watch it on ESPN.
Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma State, Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1, 1 p.m.: The Fighting Irish (11-1) carry a seven-game win streak into New Year’s Day in Glendale, Ariz., and it’s the first game under recently hired head coach Marcus Freeman. The Oklahoma State Cowboys are 11-2. Watch it on ESPN.
All-American Bowl, Jan. 8, 12 p.m.: The nation’s most prestigious high school senior all-star game will be played at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Here’s the final time the future stars play on the high school level before heading off to college. Watch it on NBC or stream it on Peacock Sports.
2021 CAC HONOR ROLL
The Catholic Athletes for Christ Honor Roll continues to tabulate the winners.
As the state/conference champions were crowned, the CAC Top Fall 25 will recognized as many of the schools that qualify for our rankings in this section. To qualify a Roman Catholic operated school with an 11-man football must have won a state sanctioned championship or a postseason tournament that would equate to winning a championship. States are listed alphabetically. Please email us if we missed your school. [Note: We list small-player football state champions, too.]
We checked in with champions from 27 states and the District of Columbia with 24 teams adding hardware to their trophy cases. The final tote board rests at 61 trophies:
California: Cathedral Catholic (San Diego), Division 1-AA; Mater Dei Catholic (Chula Vista), Division 2-AA; Marin Catholic (Kentfield), Division 4-AA; Sacred Heart Prep (Atherton), Division 5-A; Salesian College Prep (Richmond), Division 6-A; Serra (Gardena), Division 1-A; Mater Dei (Santa Ana), Open Division Bowl; Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco), Division 4-A.
Delaware: Archmere Academy (Claymont), Class 2A.
District of Columbia: Archbishop Carroll (Washington), Class AA.
Florida: Chaminade-Madonna College Prep (Hollywood), Class 3A and GEICO State Champions Bowl Series title; Santa Fe Catholic (Lakeland), Sunshine State Class AAA; Donahue Catholic (Ave Maria), Sunshine State 8-man Class AAA; Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale, Class 4A; St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale), Class 7A; Jesuit (Tampa), Class 6A.
Georgia: Benedictine Military School (Savannah), Class AAAA.
Hawaii: Saint Louis (Honolulu), Interscholastic League of Honolulu Open Division.
Indiana: Cathedral (Indianapolis), Class 5A; Andrean (Merrillville), Class 2A.
Illinois: Joliet Catholic Academy, Class 4A; Fenwick (Oak Park), Class 5A
Kansas: St. James Academy (Lenexa), Class 4A.
Kentucky: St. Xavier (Louisville), Class 6A.
Louisiana: Catholic (Baton Rouge), Division I; St. Charles Catholic (Laplace), Division III.
Maine: Cheverus (Portland), 8-man Large.
Maryland: Calvert Hall College (Towson), MIAA A Conference.
Massachusetts: Catholic Memorial (West Roxbury), Division 2.
Michigan: De La Salle Collegiate (Warren, Mich.), Division 2; Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Division 5; Lansing Catholic, Division 6.
Missouri: Christian Brothers College (St. Louis), Class 6; St. Mary’s (St. Louis), Class 3.
Nebraska: Archbishop Bergan (Fremont), Class C2.
Nevada: Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), Class 5A.
New Jersey: Red Bank Catholic, Non-Public B; Bergen Catholic (Oradell), Non-Public A.
New York: St Francis, Athol Springs, Monsignor Martin Association Class A; St. Mary’s (Lancaster), MMA Class B.; Iona Prep (New Rochelle), NYCHSFL Class AAA, NYCHSAA Class AAA; Chaminade (Mineola), Class AA-1; Holy Trinity (Hicksville), AA-2; Christian Brothers Academy (Syracuse), Class A.
North Carolina: Cardinal Gibbons (Raleigh), Class 4A.
Ohio: St. Edward (Lakewood), Division I.
Oregon: Central Catholic (Portland), Class 6A.
Pennsylvania: St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia), PCL Class 6A; West Catholic (Philadelphia), PCL Class 2A; Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia), PCL Class 3A; Bishop Guilfoyle (Altoona), PIAA Class 1A.
Rhode Island: Bishop Hendricken (Warwick), State Championship Bracket.
South Dakota: St. Mary (Dell Rapids), Class 9B.
Texas: St. Paul (Shriner), TAPPS Division IV.
Washington Catholic Athletic Conference: St. Mary Ryken (Leonardtown, Md.), WCAC Metro; St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.), WCAC Capital.
Wisconsin: Catholic Memorial (Waukesha), Division 4; Aquinas (La Crosse), Division 5.
Again, if we dropped the ball and did not mention your school in the 2021 CAC Honor Roll, give us a nudge. We can make an online edit and that’s the case if Saint Louis (Honolulu) wins the Hawaii Open Division championship on Thursday night. Hawaii put the season on hold due to pandemic issues.
There’s more for our final week and it’s really good news.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, an alumnus of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., recently won the Heisman Trophy.
During his acceptance speech on Dec. 11 in New York, Young said, “I’ve always been ruled out and kind of doubted. People a lot of times have told me that I wasn’t going to be able to make it. And for me, it’s always been about not really proving them wrong, but proving to myself what I can accomplish.”
Young became the third Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Mater Dei, joining John Huarte (in 1964) and Matt Leinart (2004). The school has a designated Heisman Lane on campus that will now feature the three winners.
Young started his prep career at Cathedral (Los Angeles) before transferring to the nation’s premier program and this year’s CAC National Champions. He and the Crimson Tide are back in action on Dec. 31 against Cincinnati at the Cotton Bowl. The winner advances to the national title game on Dec. 10.
Here’s the final reminder of the season from our friends at Global Football.
Now that another holiday season is here, reward your school and think about this offer from Global Football.
So, you don’t have to have Irish ancestry to enjoy a trip to Emerald Island … with American football as a bonus next summer.
If you like traveling and high school and college football here’s your opportunity.
In conjunction with the 2022 Big Ten Conference opening game is the fifth High School Football Showcase organized by Global Football. The showcase game features Northwestern and Nebraska as part of the Aer Lingus College Football Series on Aug. 27, 2022, at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland.
So, here are the details.
High school football athletic directors and coaches are invited to travel overseas with their teams for a competitive game against an American opponent. Schools are encouraged to bring their high school bands, cheerleaders and teams from other sports such as field hockey, rugby and lacrosse.
It will be a memorable trip and cultural experience!
For more information contact Patrick Steenberge (817) 219-7274 or email him Patrick@globalfootball.com. Also visit this site for additional details, 2022 Kildare High School Showcase PPT.
Plan ahead, the Emerald Island trip will be here quicker than before!
We encourage fans, players, parents and coaches to follow the CAC Top 25 through social media at www.Facebook.com/CACTop25 and on Twitter @CACTop25. If there is a team, coach, player or story idea that we may have overlooked, we need to hear from you. Our readers are our greatest resource. We can’t thank you enough and can’t do it without you.
The CAC Top 25 preseason rankings will be revealed in August 2022.
We had a blast this season and look ahead to another one in the next calendar year. We cannot thank all the fans and readers who make the CAC Top 25 rankings a weekly must-read. This was our fifth year at it and the sixth will be bigger and better.
Our best to all the players, coaches, parents, supporters, school administrators, cheerleaders, band members, game day volunteers, police officers, medical personnel and prep sports writers for making the 2021 season another walk-off touchdown.
Thank you, again!
And a special thank-you and recognition to Patrick Steenberge of Global Football, who is the brains and creator of the CAC Top 25. Your devotion to the sport of football is unmatched. I look forward to working with you for another season in 2022.
Finally, stay safe and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. We’re less than eight months from the start of another high school football season and we’ll gladly bring it to you from a prospective of Catholic schools nationwide.
Until next season, God’s Blessings. — Christopher Lawlor, National Correspondent, Catholic Athletes for Christ
CAC TOP 25 HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL FINAL RANKINGS, DECEMBER 22, 2021
1. Mater Dei, Santa Ana, Calif. (12-0)*!
Previous rank: 1.
In the Huddle: The Monarchs are the CAC Top 25 National Champions after completing a perfect season and winning the CIF Open Division Bowl Game, defeating Serra (San Mateo), 44-7, in the final. The Monarchs led 21-0 after the first quarter and cruised. Sophomore QB Elijah Brown completed 18-of-25 passes for 243 yards and two TDs, Raleek Brown rushed for three TDs and both Quincy Craig and Cooper Barkate caught scoring passes. Indeed, it was a dominant season for the Monarchs.
2. Bergen Catholic, Oradell, N.J. (12-0)*
Previous rank: 2.
In the Huddle: Won Non-Public A championship.
3. Jesuit, Tampa, Fla. (15-0)*
Previous rank: 3.
In the Huddle: Won the Florida Class 6A state championship, defeating Pine Forest (Pensacola), 35-29, in the final. The Tigers rallied from a 29-14 hole in the third quarter. QB Luke Knight engineered a 5-play, 91-yard drive in the final minute capped by a 7-yard TD toss to WR Jadyn Girard with 37 seconds left and RB Joquez Smith (88 yards rushing, two TDs) added the two-point conversion. Knight completed 18 of 26 passes for 352 yards and three TDs. WR Junior Vandeross had six receptions for 121 yards and two scores.
4. St. Thomas Aquinas, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (14-1)*
Previous rank: 4.
In the Huddle: Won a third straight Florida Class 7A state championship, defeating Tampa Bay Tech (Tampa), 42-14, in the final. It was a Florida record 13th championship for the Raiders. RB Anthony Hankerson carried 11 times for 117 yards and three TDs from 30, 4 and 16 yards. QB Zion Turner threw for 117 yards and two scores from 21 yards apiece and rushed for another one. The Raiders were up 21-0 after one quarter and never looked back.
5. Servite, Anaheim, Calif. (10-3)
Previous rank: 5.
In the Huddle: The Friars advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division I final and all three losses to were to Trinity League members and CAC 25 teams Mater Dei and St. John Bosco.
6. St. John Bosco, Bellflower, Calif. (10-2)
Previous rank: 6.
In the Huddle: The Braves had two losses to CAC 25 teams Mater Dei and Servite.
7. St. Frances Academy, Baltimore, Md. (8-1)
Previous rank: 7.
In the Huddle: The Panthers do not compete for a postseason championship but played a national schedule with a signature win over powerhouse IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) but lost to No. 4 St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.).
8. St. John’s College, Washington, D.C. (11-0)*
Previous rank: 8.
In the Huddle: Won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Capital championship.
9. Catholic, Baton Rouge, La. (12-1)*
Previous rank: 9.
In the Huddle: Won a second straight LHSAA Division I state championship.
10. Chaminade-Madonna College Prep, Hollywood, Fla. (12-1)*^
Previous rank: 10.
In the Huddle: Won the Florida Class 3A state championship, shutting out previously unbeaten Berkeley Prep (Tampa), 21-0, in the final. The Lions have won fourth state titles in the last five years. RB Davion Gause, a Miami recruit, carried 26 times for 199 yards and two scores. QB Cedrick Bailey hit on 12-of-17 passes for 154 yards and a 33-yard TD strike to WR Jeremiah Smith in the third quarter. Gause gave the Lions the lead for good at 7-0 from 2 yards on the final play of the opening period. He added a second rushing score from 22 yards in the fourth to ice it. The Lions also rallied to beat Highland (Gilbert, Ariz.), 35-24, on Dec. 17 to capture the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series title in Las Vegas, Nev.
11. Bishop Gorman, Las Vegas, Nevada (12-1)*
Previous rank: 11.
In the Huddle: Won NIAA Class 5A state championship.
12. St. Edward, Lakewood, Ohio (15-1)*
Previous rank: 12.
In the Huddle: Won Division I state championship. It was the program’s fifth state title since 2010 and the first since 2018.
13. Cathedral, Indianapolis, Ind. (14-1)*
Previous rank: 13.
In the Huddle: Won a second consecutive Class 5A state championship.
14. De La Salle Collegiate, Warren, Mich. (13-0)*
Previous rank: 14.
In the Huddle: Won the Division 2 state championship.
15. St. Joseph’s Prep, Philadelphia (11-3)*
Previous rank: 15.
In the Huddle: The Philadelphia Catholic League Red Division champions lost in the PIAA Class 6A final to undefeated and nationally ranked Mount Lebanon (Pittsburgh), 35-17, in the final.
16. Joliet (Ill.) Catholic Academy (14-0)*
Previous rank: 16.
In the Huddle: Won the Class 4A state championship. It was the Hilltoppers’ state record 15th Illinois state championship.
17. Central Catholic, Portland, Ore. (15-0)*
Previous rank: 17.
In the Huddle: Won the Class 6A state championship. The Rams dominated Oregon’s largest classification.
18. Christian Brothers College, St. Louis, Mo. (13-1)*
Previous rank: 18.
In the Huddle: Won Class 6 state championship.
19. Iona Prep, New Rochelle, N.Y. (11-1)**
Previous rank: 19.
In the Huddle: Won the Catholic High School Athletic Association state championship and
New York City Catholic High School Football League Class AAA title.
20. Serra, San Mateo, Calif. (12-2)
Previous rank: 22.
In the Huddle: Advanced to CIF Open Division Bowl Game final, losing to No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana), 44-7. Won the CIF-Central Coast Section Division 1 title.
21. De La Salle, Concord, Calif. (10-3)
Previous rank: 21.
In the Huddle: The Spartans won their 29th consecutive CIF-North Coast Section title but were upset in the CIF-Northern Region Division 1-AA final.
22. St. Xavier, Louisville, Ky. (14-1)*
Previous rank: 22.
In the Huddle: Won KHSAA Class 6A state championship.
23. Archbishop Moeller, Cincinnati, Ohio (11-4)
Previous rank: 23.
In the Huddle: Advanced to the OHSAA Division I semifinals after winning the ultra-competitive Region 4 championship.
24. St. Xavier, Cincinnati, Ohio (10-3)
Previous rank: 24.
In the Huddle: The Bombers won the Greater Catholic League (of Cincinnati) South title, one of the nation’s toughest leagues, but fell short in the OHSAA Division I, Region 4 playoffs.
25. Cathedral Catholic, San Diego, Calif. (12-2)*
Previous rank: Not ranked.
In the Huddle: The Dons slide back into the CAC Top 25 rankings after annexing the CIF Division 1-AA championship, beating Folsom, 33-21, in the final. It was the program’s third state title. QB Charlie Mirer, the son of former NFL QB Rick Mirer, accounted for three TDs, including a 28-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter to ice it. RB Lucky Sutton, who set a CIF-San Diego Section record with 435 rushing yards and seven TDs in the regional final, for the second straight week lit up the defense with 232 rushing yards and a score on 30 carries. Season complete.
Dropped out: No. 25 Central Catholic (Pittsburgh, Pa.).
Special Consideration: Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)*; Central Catholic (Pittsburgh, Pa.); Jesuit (New Orleans, La.); Columbus (Miami, Fla.); Central Catholic (Grand Rapids, Mich.)*; Benedictine Military School (Savannah, Ga.)*; Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.); Catholic Memorial (West Roxbury, Mass.)*; Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic*; Archbishop Hoban (Akron, Ohio); Catholic Memorial (Waukesha, Wis.)*; McQuaid Jesuit (Rochester, N.Y.); Loyola Academy (Wilmette, Ill.); Loyola Blakefield (Towson, Md.); St Francis (Athol Springs, N.Y.)*; Eastside Catholic (Sammamish, Wash.); Brebeuf Jesuit (Indianapolis, Ind.); La Salle College (Wyndmoor, Pa.); Benedictine (Cleveland, Ohio); Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.); St. Thomas Academy (Mendota, Minn.); St. Francis (Mountain View, Calif); Good Counsel (Olney, Md.); DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.); Jesuit (Portland, Ore.); Marist (Atlanta, Ga.); St. Rita (Chicago, Ill.); Archbishop Spalding (Severn, Md.); St. Mary Ryken (Leonardtown, Md.)*; Aquinas (La Crosse, Wis.)*; Lansing (Mich.) Catholic*; Cathedral Prep (Erie, Pa.);Fenwick (Oak Park, Ill.)*;St. Joseph Regional (Montvale, N.J.); Serra (Gardena, Calif.); Bishop Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.); .); Fairfield (Conn.) Prep; Blessed Trinity Catholic (Roswell, Ga.); Saint Louis (Honolulu, Hawaii)* and Roncalli (Indianapolis, Ind.).
*Won state or conference postseason tournament championship [Teams in some states won more than one postseason title]
! Catholic Athletes for Christ Top 25 National Champions
^ Won a GEICO State Champions Bowl Series game
About: The Catholic Athletes for Christ Top 25 High School Football Rankings, presented by Global Football are released on Wednesdays from late August until the conclusion of the high school season in December. Criteria include the quality of the team and its players, strength of schedule, tradition, and quality of the team’s league, conference, region or district. The rankings are compiled by Christopher Lawlor, who consults with Patrick Steenberge of Global Football in Granbury, Texas to coordinate the CAC Top 25. All Catholic high schools from the United States that feature only four-year players on 11-man teams are eligible for consideration. Fans are encouraged to follow the CAC Top 25 at www.Facebook.com/CACTop25 and on Twitter @CACTop25.