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BELLFLOWER—San Clemente football came out swinging, giving top-seeded St. John Bosco all it could handle on its own field, but the champs don’t go down so easily.
The Tritons jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter at St. John Bosco, but the national No. 3 Braves found their form with a 14-10 lead at halftime and pulled away for a 35-10 win in the CIF-SS Division 1 quarterfinals on Friday, Nov. 10.
“There’s no doubt,” San Clemente coach Jaime Ortiz said of his team making the most of its Division 1 opportunity. “One of the special things about San Clemente is they don’t care. They’ll go play whoever, whenever. That’s the way they respond. They gave Bosco everything and then some.”
“I have respect for the Braves, I’m sure they’ll go far in the playoffs. Our kids went toe-to-toe against one of the top teams in the nation. I think our seniors did a good job of setting that tempo all year long.”
St. John Bosco, the reigning CIF-SS Division 1, State Open Division and national champion, moves on to host No. 4 seed Corona Centennial in the semifinals next Friday, Nov. 17.
San Clemente finished the season 9-2 and South Coast League champions and qualified for the toughest high school football playoff bracket in the nation, according to MaxPreps.
“The thing about our team is we sacrifice and we play for each other,” San Clemente senior Broderick Redden said. “We don’t play as individuals. We’re there for each other. We always leave it all out on the field every game. That’s what I love about this group.”
There were 38 seniors in this group of Tritons, including quarterback Dylan Mills, who hit fellow senior Drew Shanley for San Clemente’s lone touchdown in the first quarter; Stanford-committed two-way lineman Connor Bachhuber; record-breaking running back Aiden Rubin; and Redden, who set up San Clemente’s second score–a 28-yard field goal by senior Max Gonzales–with a tip-drill interception at the end of the first quarter.
“This senior group is really special,” Redden said. “I’ll miss playing with all these boys. They’re my brothers for life.”
San Clemente came out with a singularly focused game plan on Friday night: physicality. The Tritons wanted to run the ball, control the clock and stand up St. John Bosco defensively.
The Tritons executed it to near perfection early.
The Tritons converted a fourth down with Rubin on their opening drive and held the Braves to a 3-and-out on the ensuing drive. San Clemente’s next drive went 10 plays with five runs from Rubin, and the Tritons capitalized to send its strong traveling crowd into a fury.
Mills hit Shanley over the middle, who turned and found the end zone on an 11-yard score. San Clemente was leading the reigning national champions on the road, 7-0.
San Clemente began to believe with its next defensive series. The Tritons defensive line got its hands in passing lanes all night long, including a tip by Matai Tagoa’i two plays into the Bosco drive. Redden found the ball in the air to secure the interception and get San Clemente cooking.
Gonzales’ 28-yard field goal sailed true to put San Clemente up 10-0 on St. John Bosco to open the second quarter.
At that point, San Clemente was the better team on the field of the No. 3 team in the country. The Tritons had run 21 plays to Bosco’s nine and gained 85 yards to Bosco’s 19 yards. The Braves were 0-for-4 passing.
The Tritons forced another Bosco punt to maintain their control, but the Braves looked close to finding their true gear, which arrived on their next drive.
Bosco worked quick outside wide receiver screens to make their way 84 yards on an 11-play drive capped by a four-yard touchdown pass for their first points just inside four minutes left in the second half.
Following a San Clemente three-and-out, the game flipped completely to St. John Bosco on a 71-yard punt return to the Tritons’ 1-yard line.
Not only did the punt return set up Bosco for the go-ahead score–a one-yard touchdown run for a 14-10 lead–but Bachhuber, a key component to San Clemente’s defensive pressure and offensive point of attack, left the game with an ankle injury.
“He’s a big part of our program, a senior captain for us,” Ortiz said of Bachhuber. “That hurt not just on defense, it hurt on offense and he’s a long-snapper on special teams. We essentially lost three players when he went down.”
While Bachhuber was down as were the Tritons on the scoreboard, San Clemente showed no quit going into halftime, as Tagoa’i denied the Braves points with an interception in the endzone with 20 seconds remaining.
However, it took just 30 seconds and three second half plays for St. John Bosco to take off sprinting toward victory.
The Braves got the ball to open the second half and with a 15-yard pass and a 49-yard rushing touchdown, St. John Bosco was up by two scores, 21-10.
Then on San Clemente’s first play of the ensuing drive, pinned at its own 7-yard line, the Braves brought pressure and forced a quick through right into the hands of the Bosco defensive back, who waltz into the end zone for the pick-six and the three-score lead, 28-10.
“I know they’re a second-half football team watching them all year,” Ortiz said, “and they made some plays that changed the momentum of the game and took control of the game in the second half. Kudos to Coach (Jason) Negro and staff for making adjustments.”
San Clemente got one last spark in the fourth quarter, as Max Kotiranta jumped on an incomplete lateral pass for a fumble recovery to set up the Tritons near midfield.
San Clemente converted a third-and-long on a roughing-the-passer penalty and converted another fourth down on a run by Mills. The Tritons were then snuffed out on a fourth-and-six, and while a flag was thrown, it was a dead-ball personal foul against Bosco, which meant possession stayed with the Braves after the turnover-on-downs.
Nine plays later, St. John Bosco added the cherry on top of its quarterfinal victory with a 16-yard touchdown run with four minutes remaining.
Mills completed 9 of 21 passes for 76 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Rubin carried the ball 21 times for 56 yards to cap his single-season rushing record at 1,794 yards. Holden Stakston led San Clemente with three receptions for 36 yards. Shanley caught two passes for 27 yards and a score.
In addition to their interceptions, Tagoa’i and Redden combined on a tackle-for-loss in the third quarter.
St. John Bosco quarterback Caleb Sanchez completed 15 of 25 passes for only 128 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Chauncey Sylvester rushed for 99 yards and a score on eight carries. Seven different Bosco receivers caught a pass.