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By Zach Cavanagh
SAN CLEMENTE – Entering Friday’s CIF-SS Division 1 quarterfinal, the San Clemente football team had already accomplished all it had realistically set out to do this season.
The Tritons had bounced back from a 1-4 start to win six in a row, beat Mission Viejo for the first time since 1999, claim the South Coast League title and win a Division 1 playoff game.
The fact that San Clemente even took the field against the No. 1 team in the country was a win in itself for the Tritons. Before the game, San Clemente coach Jaime Ortiz called the game “gravy” and said the Tritons were “playing with house money.”
San Clemente had every opportunity to roll over accept a blowout, and despite the blowout that did commence, the Tritons didn’t stop playing or executing right to the game’s final whistle.
The Tritons sent their season out on a high note with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Brendan Costello to Jaydel Jenkins as time expired to spoil the shutout in St. John Bosco’s 56-6 win in a CIF-SS Division 1 quarterfinal on Friday at San Clemente High School.
“Testament to our kids, they never quit,” Ortiz said. “That’s been the mantra of our season all year long. I love the fact that our kids didn’t quit. They played hard the entire game. Just the epitome of our season.”
San Clemente closes its season at 7-5. St. John Bosco (12-0) advances to the Division 1 semifinals against the winner of Saturday’s JSerra-Oaks Christian game.
The Tritons did not make any true mistakes, made the correct reads on their plays and executed just fine against the Braves. However, the difference between the teams was evident in the open field.
Bosco used its top-notch speed to score on punt returns of 76 and 77 yards in the first quarter, and junior quarterback DJ Uiagalelei connected on touchdown passes of 57, 53 and 80 yards as the Braves took a 49-0 lead into the fourth quarter.
“There’s an old saying that it’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about Jimmys and Joes,” Ortiz said. “Their kids are the best kids around. That’s why they’re No. 1, that’s why they’re Trinity League champs. I don’t anticipate them losing the rest of the season.”
The Tritons were also held to converting one of nine third-down attempts, but San Clemente never quit.
On the final drive of the game, San Clemente moved the ball on the ground and thanks to Bosco penalties. The Tritons raced down the field and against the running clock before the Oklahoma State commit Costello completed his high school career by rolling left and hitting a narrow window to the junior Jenkins on the 17-yard touchdown throw.
“It’s a lot of pressure to be a San Clemente quarterback, whether you’re Sam Darnold, Travis Wilson or Jack Sears,” Ortiz said. “For him (Costello), he did a great job taking this program to the next level. This year, he was the heart and soul offensively. Every game he went into, teams were trying to stop him and he still found ways to make plays.”
Junior Preston Rex also came up with a defensive highlight for the Tritons as Rex intercepted Uiagalelei in the first quarter. Air Force Academy-bound punter Charlie Bein also knocked a 76-yard punt in the first quarter.
The final score wasn’t pretty, but it still capped a tremendous season of San Clemente football, one that won’t be forgotten for some time.
“All year long, they looked adversity in the eye and didn’t blink,” Ortiz said. “That’s something that will carry through later in life. As coaches, you want to teach them about the game of football but more importantly about life. The kids said, ‘let’s go.’ You won’t see it in win-loss, you won’t see it in record books, but I think later in life that’s really going to help them become future men.”