By Zach Cavanagh
MISSION VIEJO – It was always going to be near impossible for Friday’s San Clemente-Mission Viejo match-up to get close to the theatrics of last season’s South Coast League championship game, and right from the start, Mission Viejo made it clear there would be no repeat by the Tritons.
Mission Viejo intercepted San Clemente twice in the first three possessions and scored the first three times it had the ball, including a pick-six, in a strong win over the Tritons, 38-6, in San Clemente’s regular-season finale at Mission Viejo High School.
“We had to play really well, and we didn’t play really well in the very beginning of the game,” San Clemente coach Jaime Ortiz said. “Next thing you know, it’s 21-0. I liked the way our kids battled back, 21-6 at halftime. Too many turnovers on offense, some mistakes on defense, they (Mission Viejo) were the better team tonight.”
San Clemente ends its regular season at 8-2 overall and 3-1 in the South Coast League. The Tritons will have a bye week next week, and Mission Viejo (9-0, 3-0) will host Tesoro. The Diablos will be favored to beat the Titans and return to the league championship throne outright.
Last season’s loss to San Clemente was Mission Viejo’s first league loss since 2008 and their first loss to the Tritons since 1999. Mission Viejo clinched at least a share of the league title for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons.
Going forward, San Clemente awaits its CIF-SS playoff fate. Going into Friday’s game, the Tritons, ranked No. 10 in Division 1 and 2, were on the outside of the elite Division 1 selections, and even a win over Mission Viejo, ranked No. 4, and a league championship might not have put them into that eight-team grouping.
San Clemente will end up in Division 2 and could earn a high seed and a first-round home game.
“Wherever they put us, we’ll be ready to play,” Ortiz said. “We’re 8-2, we’re a good football team, and I think we’ve got a lot of games left in us.”
CIF-SS brackets will be released on Nov. 3, and the playoffs will begin on Nov. 8.
Out of the gate on Friday, San Clemente was going backwards.
The Tritons were assessed a personal foul on the opening play of the game, and their first official offensive play was intercepted at San Clemente’s 16-yard line.
Mission Viejo scored one play later on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Peter Costelli to Chase Nenad.
Costelli finished 13 of 22 passing for 134 yards and a touchdown. Nenad caught nine passes for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Nenad returned San Clemente’s next punt deep into Tritons territory at the 26-yard line. Four plays later, Jacquez Robertson ran in a 4-yard touchdown for the 14-0 lead.
San Clemente got a quick spark of offense to open their next drive, but that spark was immediately snuffed out on another interception and 54-yard return for the pick-six touchdown and a 21-0 Diablos lead.
The Mission Viejo defense was formidable. Tritons quarterbacks Nick Billoups and Drayton Joseph combined to complete 7 of 21 passes for 34 yards with three interceptions. San Clemente only amassed 70 yards rushing on 20 carries.
The Tritons did get on the board late in the first quarter.
FUMBLE: Mission Viejo fumbles the first snap of the drive and turnover machine Trey Torticill recovers. San Clemente sets up deep in Diablo territory, trailing 21-0, late 1Q. @Tritonfootball @TorticillTrey @missionfootball @SCTimesNews pic.twitter.com/3hY8DschqV
— SouthOCsports (@SouthOCsports) October 26, 2019
Mission Viejo fumbled a shotgun snap, and Trey Torticill recovered the ball at the Diablos’ 23-yard line. San Clemente converted with a 38-yard field goal from Cole Thompson.
Late in the second quarter, San Clemente came up with another fumble recovery.
Mission Viejo put together a 10-play drive and was in scoring position, when a handoff was mishandled and pounced on by Trenton Brail. The San Clemente defense finished the regular season with 32 turnovers forced in 10 games, 19 interceptions and 13 fumbles.
Nick Billoups spurred on the San Clemente offense with a 33-yard run and a 12-yard pass to Cian Smith.
San Clemente called timeout after Smiths’ reception with two seconds remaining in the first half. As the Tritons lined up for a field goal, Mission Viejo proceeded to call all three of its first-half timeouts to ice Thompson.
FIELD GOAL: After Mission Viejo used all three of its timeouts to try to ice the San Clemente kicker (after SCcalled its last), Cole Thompson kicks a 41-yard FG straight through at the buzzer. Mission Viejo leads at halftime, 21-6. @SCHSTritons @Tritonfootball @colethompsonkp pic.twitter.com/Y5R5BVmASf
— SouthOCsports (@SouthOCsports) October 26, 2019
After the delay, the Navy-bound Thompson knocked through the 41-yard field goal for the 21-6 halftime score, Mission Viejo ahead.
The Diablos put together three more scoring drives in the second half. Mission Viejo scored a touchdown run in the third quarter, a field goal early in the fourth quarter and following an interception, another touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
San Clemente will use the bye for some much needed rest, but the Tritons will maintain their focus with the playoffs on the horizon.
“It’s a little bit of football, but also some time off,” Ortiz said. “We’ve been going since August 1, or something like that. It’s been a long season already. Part two of the season is over, and part three starts a week from Monday.”
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports.