ALEXANDRIA, Va. – When we last checked in, the season was on borrowed time and the Catholic Athletes for Christ Top 25 High School football rankings, presented by Siena Heights University and Global Football, were a few games from calling the victory formation.
Another successful in the books and that glorious late game take-a-knee with an insurmountable lead signified the end. Ironically, many teams from the CAC Top 25 did just that this season and closed with state or conference championships.
For the CAC Top 25 final rankings, No. 21 Trinity (Louisville, Ky.) is the lone newcomer. The Shamrocks, who are a surefire preseason team in 2020, won their 26th Kentucky state championship in December. Kudos to coach Bob Beatty and his staff for a developing championship mindset in spite of two regular season losses.
When we last left off, state championships were still in session but there were two CAC Top 25 teams that recorded mixed results at the 2019 GEICO State Champions Bowl Series from December 20-21 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Here’s the recap of both games.
No. 3 St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) sent a message loud and clear on Dec. 21. The Raiders posted an undefeated season in 15 games (first since 2010), a state championship in Florida’s Class 7A and a GEICO State Championship Bowl Series title. The Raiders finished off No. 4 Saint Louis School (Honolulu), 35-19, Saturday at Bishop Gorman High School’s Fertitta Field
Aquinas has won three times since the GEICO series was created in 2014 and this season they were a powerhouse team that featured eight Power-5 signees and balance on both sides of the ball, and near flawlessness on special teams. When Aquinas tacked on 14 unmatched points in the third quarter, Saint Louis was headed to its first loss since September 2016. The Hawaiians had not played a game off the islands in two decades and for two-plus quarters the contest was a tossup.
Aquinas’ powerful running game and depth on the O-line was the difference. Jaeden Henry’s 10th rushing touchdown of the campaign with 3:32 left in the third gave the Raiders a 16-point advantage. Although the Raiders did not add an eighth shutout this season, the defense pitched zeroes in the second half.
When Aquinas needed to gain separation and give its defense a chance to rest, the Raiders stuck to the running backs. Sophomore Anthony Hankerson and Travis Dixon alternated runs on the 73-yard march. Hankerson, who gained more than 1,000 yards this season, carried the final three yards and the Raiders went up 28-19 midway through the third quarter.
Hankerson carried 24 times for 110 yards and a score. Aquinas received scores from five different players. Turner completed 8 of 14 passes for 120 yards and two TDs.
QB Jayden de Laura, a Washington State signee, paced the Crusaders’ passing game on 27-of-47 accuracy for 273 yards and two TDs and another on the ground. Koali Nishigaya caught 11 balls for 84 yards and a score in the second quarter.
On Dec. 20, No. 17 Eastside Catholic (Sammamish, Wash.) lost to nationally-ranked Marietta (Ga.), 46-7. Marietta (14-2) scored 27 unanswered points in the first quarter and 19 more in the second.
Eastside Catholic added its second TD of the game with under three minutes remaining in the game when senior running back Gio Ursino scampered 15 yards to close out the scoring. That meant a running clock or the Mercy Rule to start the third quarter. The Blue Devils outgained EC, 516 yards to 168 and tallied two scores off turnovers. The game was essentially decided in the opening three minutes when Marietta scored two touchdowns on their first two plays from scrimmage.
We’ve spoke about notable coaching changes within the CAC Top 25 communion and here are a few updates.
In Missouri, two significant programs have new leadership.
Kelly Donohoe, who coached the last 20 seasons at Blue Springs (near Kansas City) has taken over at Rockhurst (Kansas City). During his tenure, Donohue and recently retired Rockhurst legendary coach Tony Severino, matched genius on the gridiron 32 times. They forged a tremendous respect and friendship over the years despite being on opposing sidelines. Donohue went 191-53 with four Missouri state titles at Blue Springs.
Severino stepped down following the 2019 season as the winningest coach in Kansas City high school annals. Severino’s teams captured seven state championships in 37 years at the Jesuit high school.
“I am looking forward to this new challenge in my life and to establish relationships within the Rockhurst community,” Donohoe said in a statement. “What Coach Severino has done at Rockhurst over the last 37 years is truly amazing. Even though it has been a great rivalry between our two schools, we have maintained a great friendship.”
In St. Louis, Mo., Cardinal Ritter College Prep tabbed Brennan Spain as the new man in charge. It is Spain’s first head coaching gig and he spent the previous 13 seasons at East St. Louis (Ill.). Spain replaced Brandon Gregory, who was let go in October, after Ritter was adjudged for the use of an ineligible player. Once the violation was revealed, Ritter pulled the plug on the season and immediately began a search for a new leader.
In California, Joe McNab was elevated to head coach at Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) last month. Actually, it was an easy segue for McNab, who served for the last 39 years as an assistant to Kevin Rooney, who retired after the 2019 season. McNab is well respected in football circles and was the defensive coordinator and known for his leadership skills. McNabb helped Notre Dame capture four CIF-Southern Section championships and 10 sectional track and field titles at Notre Dame.
Rooney, one of California’s winningest coaches, accrued 316 victories, 16 league championships and four CIF-Southern Section crowns in his tenure.
There are superlatives left over from December in our Triple Option section. We’ve identified a transformative player from California, and a coach from Florida, who had a December to remember.
Player of the Week: Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei of No. 1 St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.). This choice was a no brainer as the signal-caller, who signed with Clemson, carved up No. 6 De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) during an emphatic 49-28 victory in the CIF State Championship Open Division Bowl game on Dec. 14 in Norwalk.
Uiagalelei was brilliant hitting on 23 of 28 passes for 398 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 64 yards and another score. All told, he accounted for five TDs and helped clinch the program’s third state bowl game title in three tries since 2010. Previously, Uiagalelei quarterbacked the Braves (13-1) to the CIF-Southern Section Division I championship.
DLS made a game of it early in the fourth quarter, pulling within seven points, 35-28. That’s when the 6 feet, 5 inch, 250-pounder went to work with the championship dangling. Uiagalelei then directed a snappy, 73-yard drive that culminated with his nine-yard TD run with 8:11 left and a 42-28 lead. Uiagalelei sprayed the ball all over the field, targeting three receivers that accumulated more than 100 receiving yards.
For the season, Uiagalelei completed 222 of 344 passes (64.5 percent) for 4,225 yards and 48 TDs and only two interceptions. He had a 144.2 QB rating. He also carried 57 times for 412 yards and 8 TDs.
Coach of the Week: Roger Harriott of No. 3 St. Thomas Aquinas. Harriott pushed all the right buttons this season as the Raiders (15-0) capped the season with a Florida Class 7A championship and winning the GEICO Bowl Series.
For Aquinas it was the 11th overall state title.
It was a memorable season as Aquinas rolled to the District 14-7A title with lopsided wins over Plantation, South Plantation and Fort Lauderdale. In the playoffs, victories over South Broward (52-0), Plantation (59-19), Atlantic (26-0) and Venice (42-0) demonstrated dominance on both sides of the ball. But a 28-23 victory over Edgewater (Orlando) on Dec. 14 clinched the Florida 7A title.
In the final, Florida-bound linebacker Derek Wingo, who was named Florida’s Gatorade Player of the year, was a disruptor with four tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss. Both sacks occurred on third down, forcing Edgewater to punt. Overall, Aquinas averaged 41 points per game and allowed less than 10.
A week later, Harriott’s team outlasted No. 4 Saint Louis School (Honolulu, Hawaii), 35-19, in the GEICO Bowl Series, finishing an unblemished 15-win campaign.
2019 CAC Honor Roll
As the state champions were crowned, the CAC Top 25 recognized as many of the schools that qualify for our rankings in this section. To have qualified 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.
California: Salesian College Prep (Richmond), Division 6-A. St. Bernard’s (Eureka), Division 6-AA. St. John Bosco (Bellflower), Open Division. Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa), Division 3-AA.
Connecticut: St. Joseph (Trumbull), Class L.
Florida: Champagnat Catholic (Hialeah), Class 2A. Chaminade-Madonna College Prep (Hollywood, Fla.), Class 3A. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale), Class 7A, GEICO State Champions Bowl Series champion.
Georgia: Blessed Trinity (Roswell), Class AAAA.
Hawaii: Saint Louis School (Honolulu), Interscholastic League Honolulu and Hawaii Open Division.
Illinois: Newman Central Catholic (Sterling), Class 2A. Mount Carmel (Chicago), Class 7A. St. Laurence (Burbank), Prep Bowl.
Indiana: Bishop Chatard (Indianapolis), Class 3A. Lafayette Central Catholic, Class A. Evansville Memorial, Class 4A.
Iowa: Dowling Catholic (West Des Moines), Class 4A.
Kansas: Bishop Miege (Shawnee Mission), Class 4A.
Kentucky: Covington Catholic (Park Hills), Class 5A. Trinity (Louisville), Class 6A.
Louisiana: Archbishop Rummel (Metairie), Division I. St. Thomas More (Lafayette), Division II.
Maine: St. Dominic Academy (Auburn)/Lisbon (co-op), Class D.
Maryland: Georgetown Prep (North Bethesda), IAC. St. Vincent Pallotti (Laurel), MIAA B Conference. Mount St. Joseph (Baltimore), MIAA Conference A. St. Mary’s Ryken, WCAC Metro Conference. Good Counsel (Olney), WCAC.
Massachusetts: St. Bernard’s (Fitchburg), Division 8 Super Bowl. St. John’s Prep (Danvers), Division 1 Super Bowl.
Michigan: St. Mary Catholic Central (Monroe), Division 6. Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Division 4. Lansing Catholic, Division 5.
Mississippi: St. Joseph Catholic (Greenville), MidSouth Association of Independent Schools Class 3A.
Missouri: De Smet Jesuit (St. Louis), Class 6. Valle Catholic (Ste. Genevieve), Class 1.
Nebraska: Skutt Catholic (Omaha), Class B.
New Jersey: St. Peter’s Prep (Jersey City), Non-Public Group 4. DePaul Catholic (Wayne), Non-Public Group 3. Holy Spirit (Absecon), Non-Public Group 2.
New York: Kennedy Catholic (Somers), CHSFL Class A. Moore Catholic (Staten Island), CHSFL Class AA-2. Chaminade (Mineola), CHSL Class AA-1. Cardinal Hayes (Bronx), CHSFL Class AAA. Canisius (Buffalo), Monsignor Martin Athletic Association A and New York State Catholic Class AA. Timon-St. Jude (Buffalo), Monsignor Martin Athletic Association B.
North Carolina: Charlotte Catholic, Class 3A.
Ohio: La Salle (Cincinnati), Division II.
Oregon: Central Catholic (Portland), Class 6A.
Pennsylvania: St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia), PCL Class AAAAAA, PIAA Class AAAAAA. Archbishop Wood (Warminster), PCL Class AAAAA, PIAA AAAAA. Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast (Drexel Hills), Class AAAA. Central Catholic (Pittsburgh), WPIAL Class AAAAAA.
Rhode Island: Bishop Hendricken (Warwick), State Championship Super Bowl.
Co-op North Smithfield/Mount St. Charles Academy (Woonsocket), Division IV.
South Dakota: O’Gorman (Sioux Falls), Class AAA.
Virginia: Benedictine (Richmond), VISAA Division I. St. Michael the Archangel (Fredericksburg), VISAA Division III.
Washington: Eastside Catholic (Sammamish), Class 3A.
West Virginia: Catholic Central (Wheeling), Class A.
Wisconsin: St. Mary’s Springs Academy (Fond du Lac), Division 6. Catholic Memorial (Waukesha), Division 4.
Totals: 30 states (60 percent of the nation), 62 schools, 67 championships (some teams won multiple postseason championships and bowl games).
Congratulations to all the champions and all the best moving forward! The 2020 season is right around the corner and as most coaches preach, “Championships are rooted in the offseason.”
More thanks to Patrick Steenberge of Global Football and Michael Preston of Preston Consulting in Providence, Rhode Island. The CAC Top 25 is Patrick’s creation and Michael the editor and PR guy that makes the entire thing run smoothly each Wednesday during the season.
To all the clergy, players, coaches, cheerleaders, band members, moms and dads, brothers and sisters, booster club members, team managers, volunteers, students, high school fans, teachers, members of law enforcement, and first responders—we cannot thank you enough for the support you provide to your respective schools.
As for the fans, you emailed us ideas and made us aware of teams from your area. Thank you for your input and suggestions and keep them coming. And here’s how.
Fans, coaches, players and parents are encouraged to follow the CAC Top 25 through social media at www.Facebook.com/CACTop25 and on Twitter @CACTop25. If you want to nominate a player or coach for CAC recognition get us the information no later than each Monday morning during the season by 11 a.m. ET. Even in the offseason send over your information regarding the 2020 season.
The CAC Top 25 is in the offseason but we’re looking ahead to the 2020 season, and the dawn of a new decade.
So, until August when the CAC Top 25 preseason rankings are revealed, God Bless, many thanks and have a blessed and Happy 2020. – Christopher Lawlor
Catholic Athletes for Christ High School Football Top 25, January 8, 2020 Final Ranking
1. St. John Bosco, Bellflower, Calif. (13-1)* !
Previous ranking: 1.
In the Huddle: Won CIF State Championship Open Division Bowl Game, stopping then-No. 6 De La Salle (Concord), 49-28.
2. Mater Dei, Santa Ana, Calif. (12-1)
Previous rank: 2.
In the Huddle: Won Trinity League championship while splitting two games with No. 1 St. John Bosco. Alabama-bound QB Bryce Young passed for 4,528 yards and 58 TDs and only six interceptions. He also rushed for 357 yards and 10 scores. The Monarchs return a strong nucleus in 2020.
3. St. Thomas Aquinas, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (15-0)* #
Previous rank: 3.
In the Huddle: Won Florida Class 7A state championship. Also captured the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series game.
4. Saint Louis School, Honolulu, Hawaii (12-0)*
Previous rank: 4.
In the Huddle: Won Hawaii Open Division championship and played in the GEICO Bowl Series. It was coach Cal Lee’s fourth straight state title.
5. St. Frances Academy, Baltimore, Md. (11-1)
Previous rank: 5.
In the Huddle: The Panthers played a competitive national schedule but do not compete for a state or conference championship.
6. De La Salle, Concord, Calif. (12-2)
Previous rank: 6.
In the Huddle: The Spartans notched their 28th straight sectional title before losing to top-ranked St. John Bosco in the CIF State Championship Open Division Bowl Game.
7. St. Peter’s Prep, Jersey City, N.J. (11-1)*
Previous rank: 7.
In the Huddle: Won New Jersey Non-Public Group 4 state championship.
8. St. Joseph’s Prep, Philadelphia (12-2)*
Previous rank: 8.
In the Huddle: Won second consecutive PIAA Class AAAAAA state championship. For the Hawks it was their fifth crown since 2013 and first under coach Tim Roken. Also captured the Philadelphia Catholic League Class AAAAAA Red Division crown.
9. Covington Catholic, Park Hills, Ky. (15-0)*
Previous rank: 9.
In the huddle: Won Kentucky Class 5A state championship.
10. De Smet Jesuit, St. Louis, Mo. (14-0)*
Previous rank: 10.
In the Huddle: Won Missouri Class 6 state championship.
11. Archbishop Rummel, Metairie, La. (13-0)*
Previous rank: 11.
In the Huddle: Won Louisiana Division I state championship. It was the program’s third state title and first since 2012. The Raiders also won the District 9-5A championship or the New Orleans Catholic League.
12. Mount Carmel, Chicago, Ill. (14-0)*
Previous rank: 12.
In the Huddle: Won the Illinois Class 7A state championship. It was the 13th state title for the Caravan.
13. Dowling Catholic (West Des Moines, Iowa (12-1)*
Previous rank: 16.
In the Huddle: Won seventh straight Iowa Class 4A state championship.
14. La Salle, Cincinnati, Ohio (13-2)*
Previous rank: 15.
In the Huddle: Won Ohio Division II state championship.
15. Catholic, Baton Rouge, La. (12-1)
Previous rank: 16.
In the Huddle: Advanced to Louisiana Division I final and captured a district title.
16. Nazareth Academy, La Grange Park, Ill. (13-1)^
Previous rank: 17.
In the Huddle: Advanced to Class 7A final. Coach Tim Racki successfully led Nazareth to another Chicago Catholic League Orange Conference championship,
17. Eastside Catholic, Sammamish, Wash. (12-2)*
Previous rank: 14.
In the Huddle: Won second straight Class 3A state championship under first-year coach Dominic Daste. The Crusaders also played in the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series.
18. Central Catholic, Pittsburgh, Pa. (12-2)*
Previous rank: 18.
In the Huddle: Advanced to the PIAA Class AAAAAA semifinals and won the WPIAL Class AAAAAA championship.
19. Chaminade-Madonna College Prep, Hollywood, Fla. (12-2)*
Previous rank: 19.
In the Huddle: The Lions defeated Florida State University High (Tallahassee), 35-20, in the Class 3A final. Season complete.
20. Good Counsel, Olney, Md. (9-3)*
Previous rank: 20.
In the Huddle: Won Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship. The Falcons won their first WCAC title since 2012.
21. Trinity, Louisville, Ky. (13-2)*
Previous rank: Not ranked.
In the Huddle: Won Kentucky Class 6A state championship. The Shamrocks avenged an early season loss to crosstown rival Male during a 28-6 title game victory. Leading 14-6 after three quarters, junior QB Nathan McElroy iced the program’s 26th state title with a pair of TD passes, including a 96-yarder to Ryan Miller. Coach Bob Beatty did a wonderful job righting the ship following a 7-7 mark in 2018 and a loss in the state semifinals, culminating in beating a previously unbeaten squad that maintained Kentucky’s top billing all season.
22. Bishop Gorman, Las Vegas, Nev. (11-2)
Previous rank: 21.
In the Huddle: Captured the Class 4A Southwest League championship but lost in the 4A semifinals. That loss halted a string of 10 consecutive Nevada state championships.
23. Salpointe Catholic, Tucson, Ariz. (10-1)
Previous rank: 22.
In the Huddle: Advanced to the first-ever Arizona Open Division semifinals against large-school teams. The Lancers were Arizona’s top-ranked Conference 4A team. Texas-bound RB Bijan Robinson became the first player in Arizona high school football history to win the Ed Doherty Award twice as the state’s top football player. Robinson became the state’s first player to rush for 2,000 yards in three years. He also owns state career records for scoring and touchdowns.
24. St. Edward, Lakewood, Ohio (11-2)
Previous rank: 23.
In the Huddle: Advanced to the Ohio Division I, Region 1 final, but fell in overtime. Both losses were by one point to Mentor.
25. Archbishop Hoban, Akron, Ohio (11-2)
Previous rank: 24.
In the Huddle: The Knights had their string of 22 straight postseason games and four consecutive state titles halted in the Division II Region 5 final. Also captured the North Coast Conference Blue Division title.
Dropped: No. 25 McGill-Toolen Catholic, Mobile, Ala.
! Catholic Athletes for Christ Top 25 National Champions
* Won a state or conference postseason championship
# Won GEICO State Champions Bowl Series game
^ Includes a forfeit victory
Special Consideration: Blessed Trinity (Roswell, Ga.)*; Columbus (Miami, Fla.)*; McGill-Toolen Catholic (Mobile, Ala.); Serra (San Mateo, Calif.); Elder (Cincinnati, Ohio); Archbishop Wood (Warminster, Pa.)**; .); Charlotte (N.C.) Catholic*; Jesuit (Dallas, Texas); Central Catholic (Toledo, Ohio); O’Dea (Seattle, Wash.); Bishop Miege (Shawnee Mission, Kan.)*; Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.); Canisius (Buffalo, N.Y.)**; Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.); St. John’s Prep (Danvers, Mass.)*; Bishop Hendricken (Warwick, R.I.)*; McQuaid Jesuit (Rochester, N.Y.); Cathedral Prep (Erie, Pa.); Cardinal Hayes (Bronx, N.Y.)*; Grand Rapids (Mich.) Central Catholic*; St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.); Gonzaga (Washington, D.C); DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.); Mount St. Joseph (Baltimore, Md.)*; Catholic Memorial (Waukesha, Wis.)*; Central Catholic (Portland, Ore.)*; Bishop McGuinness Catholic (Oklahoma City, Okla.); Servite (Anaheim, Calif.); St. Joseph (Trumbull, Conn.)*; Champagnat Catholic (Hialeah, Fla.)*; Jesuit (Portland, Ore.); Cardinal Gibbons (Raleigh, N.C.); Marist (Atlanta, Ga.); Iona Prep (New Rochelle, N.Y.); Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.); John Paul II (Plano, Texas); St. Joseph Regional (Montvale, N.J); Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colo.); San Joaquin Memorial (Bakersfield, Calif.); Catholic Memorial (West Roxbury, Mass.); St. Thomas Aquinas (Overland Park, Kan.); Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.); Benedictine (Cleveland, Ohio) and Nolan Catholic (Fort Worth, Texas).