In 1998 the Mater Dei Monarchs captured the CIF Div. 1 title behind one of the greatest performances in Southern California high school history as RB/DB Matt Grootegoed was named player of the game on both sides of the ball.
Long Beach Poly came into the title game as the defending CIF champions after shocking the favored Monarchs the year before in the championship game at the Coliseum. The Jackrabbits were the #2 team in the nation (behind DeLaSalle) and they were loaded with a roster of talented players including CB Darrell Rideaux, WR Kareem Kelly, QB Chris Lewis and LB Dennis Link. Mater Dei featured Grootegoed as well as OL/DL Lenny Vandermade and LB Kevin Mitchell.
The Monarchs started strong with 19 unanswered points in the second quarter and they led at halftime 26-12. Poly mounted a late fourth quarter comeback, including a 37 yard TD pass from Lewis to Kelly, but it wasn't enough as Mater Dei was able to hold on for the 33-26 victory.
During the game Grootegoed carried the ball 33 times for 244 yards and two touchdowns. He also added seven tackles (five solo) along with a TFL and a pass break-up.
Rideaux was named Defensive player of the game for Poly with two tackles, a pass deflection and he also added 97 yards in kickoff returns. We asked Darrell to share his thoughts on the game and it brought back a lot of memories:
“Out of all the games I’ve played in my life that one might stand out the most because there were so many underlying themes. It transcended the way we look at high school football because there was so much attention paid to this game. You had two powerhouses at the top of their game. The tempo of the game was a college atmosphere with TV and all the media. We were the #2 team in the nation at the time, there was just so much talent on the field.
Everyone knew we were on a crash course to meet the whole season and the odds were on our side heading into the game just like it was the year before for Mater Dei. On paper, we should have run away with this game. You had myself and Kareem Kelly who played at USC, Chris Lewis who went to Stanford, Larry Croom, Dennis Link, we had a lot of guys who ended up playing college football. You can’t measure the heart of a Matt Grootegoed though. I’ve never seen someone in a zone and so focused as he was that night. It seemed like as the game went along he just got stronger and stronger and his teammates fed off that. We just didn’t have an answer for him. He changed the dynamic of the whole game.
It was a great coaching job by Bruce Rollinson too. The way he schemed and game planned for us it was as if he was in our locker room. It kept us off balance and it took our offense three quarters to get going, we made a later surge but by then it was too late. While I was at USC I paid Coach Rollinson a visit because I wanted to see how he prepared his team. He embraced me with mutual respect and I really learned a lot from him.
(we asked Darrell to describe a key kickoff return when he almost broke free for a score) It was the kickoff return right after their first score. I had studied their film and noticed that the R3 and L3 guys had a tendency to overpursue so when I took the kick I set that up and hit the seam, all of a sudden the field opened up and I saw nothing but daylight to the end zone. Then a flash came out of nowhere, it was a diving Groots and he actually missed me but the back of my heel clipped his chin and it was just enough to bring me down. I almost stayed up, I stumbled and tried to catch my balance. To this day I still give him a hard time about that play. I should’ve scored. It was just a great indication of how he played that night, he sacrificed his body to make the play.
It was strange when he first got to USC (I was a year ahead of him) because he was now my teammate but Mater Dei was our primary rival and it was hard at first for me to be his teammate. I mean you have to respect his efforts and it was an honor to play with him but he was just our enemy for so long. At first, whenever we stepped on the field against him it would be on. When Kareem faced him on offense he would try to give that extra effort. On defense I was constantly in his ear reminding him that we had the better team. You know Groots, he would just chuckle and laugh it off. He’s so soft spoken.
As we sit here and talk about it all the memories from the game are coming back. I looked forward to that game so much. To be honest, I don’t remember any other game from my senior year. It will be emotional to watch."
Mater Dei vs LB Poly will air Sunday, October 3rd at 8:00pm on Fox Sports Net 2 as part of the High School game of the week "Classic" series.
* all photos courtesy Getty Images