By Steve Breazeale
Playing for their longtime coach in his final regular season contest, the Mission Viejo football team turned in a classic performance.
The Diablos won the South Coast League title for the ninth straight season following a convincing 42-14 win over San Clemente on Friday night. The game was the last regular season contest for Diablos’ coach Bob Johnson, who announced he would be retiring after 35 years coaching high school football.
The Diablos (10-0, 4-0 league) gave their coach plenty to be happy about.
Olaijah Griffin put the Diablos on the board first after getting behind the San Clemente (9-1, 3-1) defense and hauling in a 54-yard strike from quarterback Joey Yellen for a 7-0 lead.
The Diablos defense was able to capitalize on San Clemente mistakes throughout the opening 12 minutes.
Brendan Costello fumbled trying to hand the ball off on the Tritons third possession and Reece Hite recovered for Mission Viejo. Four plays later, Akili Arnold ran in untouched for an eight-yard score to make it 14-0.
Christian LaValle intercepted Costello minutes later and took the ball down to the Tritons’ two-yard line. Arnold punched one in from there for a 21-0 lead.
Mission Viejo scored 14 points off turnovers in the first quarter in the span of two minutes and two seconds.
But the second quarter belonged, for the most part, to San Clemente. The Tritons scored 14 unanswered points, starting with an 80-yard scoring drive that ended with a one-yard Austin Whitsett touchdown run. Whitsett kept the drive alive at midfield when he ran for a 39-yard gain on fourth-and-inches.
San Clemente got the ball back with five minutes before the half and scored again on a funky play at the Diablos’ goal line, when Costello fumbled on a handoff attempt and the ball went flying into a pile of bodies. San Clemente offensive lineman Thomas Wade ended up pouncing on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. The score brought San Clemente closer at 21-14.
Mission Viejo’s response to the sequence showed why they’ve been the class of the league for so long. The Diablos drove 75 yards and scored in just 39 seconds. Yellen tossed a 23-yard touchdown pass over receiver Austin Osborne’s shoulder to increase the lead to 28-14.
Osborne took a reverse 25-yards for a touchdown and fullback Shaun Javier-Rhodes powered his way in for a four-yard run in the third quarter to bring to to 42-14.
Yellen hit LaValle for a 34-yard touchdown pass in the fourth.
San Clemente’s Keith Jones took a short pass from Costello and turned it into an 80-yard touchdown to close out the scoring.
Mission Viejo and San Clemente are both bound for the CIF-SS Division 1 playoffs next week.
Arnold had a game-high 179 yards and two touchdowns. Yellen completed 9 of 17 passes for 185 yards and three scores. Griffin had a game-high 83 yards receiving.
Costello completed 15 of 19 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Jones had a game-high six catches for 123 yards and a touchdown and Whitsett added 66 rushing yards.
Mission Viejo continued its dominance in the series matchup against the Tritons. The Diablos are 11-0-1 against San Clemente since 2004. The two teams tied 31-31 in 2007. The last time San Clemente beat Mission Viejo was in 1999.
Johnson will go down as the winningest coach in Orange County history. Hundreds of former players and coaches paid their respects to him during a pregame ceremony on Friday night.
The loss snapped a program-record 15-game win streak for San Clemente. The last time the Tritons lost a game was to this same Diablos team one year ago.