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MISSION VIEJO–While San Clemente had broken through in its South Coast League rivalry with Mission Viejo in recent years, there was one last thing the Tritons hadn’t done in this millennium against the Diablos, and San Clemente fell back on its old reliable traits to finally get over its hump in its league opener on Friday, Oct. 13.
San Clemente leaned again on its run game with a third straight 240-yard performance from Aiden Rubin and was supported by its defense holding Mission Viejo without a third-down conversion in the game and icing the game with a pick-six from Max Gonzales, as the Tritons won on the road at Mission Viejo, 20-10, for the first time since 1998.
“At the end of the day, we knew it was going to have to be a battle in the fourth quarter,” San Clemente coach Jaime Ortiz said. “It was a great team win for our kids. These brothers came together and bonded.”
Photos by Alan Gibby / Zone57
San Clemente (7-1, 1-0) has now won three of its last six games against Mission Viejo (5-3, 0-1) since 2018, when the Tritons broke a 19-year winless streak against the Diablos. The closest San Clemente had come to winning at Mission Viejo in that streak was a 31-31 tie in 2007.
The Tritons, ranked No. 11 in CIF-SS by CalPreps, now control the destiny of the South Coast League and could slot into one of the final CIF-SS Division 1 playoff spots or be a top seed in Division 2. San Clemente is at Capistrano Valley next Friday, Oct. 20, and hosts Tesoro on Oct. 27.
The Diablos, ranked No. 13 by CalPreps, are likely cemented into the Division 2 playoff field without any speed bumps at Tesoro next Friday, Oct. 20, or at Capistrano Valley on Oct. 27. Tesoro (5-3, 1-0) beat Capistrano Valley (7-1, 0-1) on Friday, 37-22.
Coming off a school-record 271-yard rushing performance last week, San Clemente senior Aiden Rubin set the tone immediately against Mission Viejo on Friday. The Diablos called a timeout after the Tritons earned first downs on two of their first three plays, and on the other side of the pause, Rubin broke a 50-yard touchdown run down the Mission Viejo sideline for the early lead, 7-0.
“Last week, I apologized. I said we should have played him more as a junior,” Ortiz said. “He’s taken it upon himself in this senior year. I think he’s just getting started. You watch him run, and he improves every single game. He runs harder and harder as the game goes on.”
Rubin, the county’s leading rusher, ran for 242 yards on 27 carries with one touchdown, which brings his season total to 17 rushing touchdowns and 19 total touchdowns. Rubin is three total touchdowns away from the San Clemente single-season mark set by Josh Ferrell in 2006.
“Great o-line, but we could not do this stuff without Aiden Rubin either,” San Clemente senior lineman Connor Bachhuber said. “Kid is a dawg. He battles. He runs hard. He’s so tough. I’ve never seen someone tougher. College coaches need to check in on that guy.”
Bachhuber, a Stanford commit, was integral with a ton of two-way line play, as San Clemente again set the tone defensively on the ensuing drive.
The Diablos’ first play from scrimmage was a snuffed-out swing pass for minus-4 yards, followed by an incomplete pass and the first third down stop of the night for San Clemente. The Tritons held Mission Viejo without a third down conversion on 10 opportunities in the game.
“The energy, man,” Bachhuber said of the defensive difference. “In our tough loss against Murrieta Valley, we were a little flat. In the past two weeks, we’ve been working on bringing that energy up. Monday, we were celebrating literally anything. We got that tonight, celebrated everything we could, and it paid off.”
And while the San Clemente defense was up to par, the Mission Viejo defense showed up as well.
Following that opening drive, the Tritons only earned 24 total yards of offense for the rest of the first half, went 0-for-4 on third down and were stopped on a fourth-down attempt.
This allowed Mission Viejo to slowly work its way back into the game. The Diablos knocked in a 35-yard field goal in the first quarter and converted a fourth down on their way to a go-ahead touchdown run late in the second quarter, 10-7.
However, that was all the San Clemente defense would allow, as Matai Tagoa’i came up with a strip sack on the Diablos’ next drive to deny Mission Viejo anything more in the first half.
On the opening drive of the second half, Mission Viejo was beset by its fourth and fifth personal fouls of the game, which gave San Clemente a window back into the game.
Rubin reappeared with a 56-yard bolt on his first touch of the second half, followed by a 24-yard sprint on the next play, but the senior denied himself an easy run to the go-ahead score when he tripped in the open field. San Clemente settled for the game-tying field goal by Max Gonzales, 10-10.
Another personal foul set back Mission Viejo’s next drive, and it was time for San Clemente to grind its way to victory. The Tritons put together a clock-eating 15-play drive with a brilliant fourth-down call–a fake to the surging Rubin with a rollout run by quarterback Dylan Mills–and the game’s first and only third-down conversion one minute into the fourth quarter.
Gonzales stepped up to put San Clemente ahead, 13-10, with a 19-yard field goal with seven minutes remaining.
Tagoa’i’s second sack of the night downed Mission Viejo’s next offensive possession, and while the Diablos held San Clemente to an ensuing 3-and-out, Mission Viejo did itself in again with a muffed punt reception. Xander Rex pounced on the loose ball for San Clemente, and the Tritons continued to burn down the clock.
But the Tritons couldn’t land the finishing blow, and Mission Viejo got the ball back with just under two minutes remaining back at its 10-yard line.
With nearly a full field to go and time dwindling, San Clemente anticipated Mission Viejo would pass and jumped on it. On another third down, Gonzales undercut the Diablo receiver’s route to snag the interception and housed it 20 yards for the score and the dagger, 20-10.
Mission Viejo got one last chunk pass play, but San Clemente cut short the comeback attempt with a stop on fourth down to regain the ball and kneel out the clock.
Friday night’s game was also a special mark in the rivalry, as it was the last time San Clemente and Mission Viejo would face off in a South Coast League football contest. Next season, Orange County’s football leagues will be sorted out by a power rankings formula, which will still likely slot San Clemente and Mission Viejo as league rivals, just under a different league name.
Since San Clemente rejoined the South Coast League in 2016, it has either been the Tritons or the Diablos winning the South Coast League championship. Prior to San Clemente’s 2018 win, Mission Viejo hadn’t lost a league game since 2008.