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Following an all-out effort in a historic road win over a league rival, it’d be nearly impossible for the San Clemente football team to bring that same level of intensity to its next game. So much so that a 21-7 halftime lead at Capistrano Valley felt like an underperformance to the Tritons players on Friday, Oct. 20.
However, San Clemente came out and put its stamp on the game in both halves with another Max Gonzales pick-six and two Aiden Rubin touchdown runs in the first half and two touchdown throws from Dylan Mills to Cole Herlean in the fourth quarter, as the Tritons took care of business at Capistrano Valley, 35-18.
“It was an emotional game last week, and I think in the first half, we were going through the motions a little bit,” San Clemente coach Jaime Ortiz said. “All respect to Capo. Those kids played hard, and they battled, gave us everything and then some. But at halftime, we’re up 21-7, and our kids were mad. Like what’s going on? It was time for those seniors to show some leadership and step up in the second half, and that’s what they did.”
San Clemente (8-1, 2-0) experienced a similar lull at the midpoint of the season, when the Tritons lost their unbeaten mark in a one-point loss on Homecoming night to Murrieta Valley. It was a teaching moment that stuck with the Tritons into Friday night.
“We talked about it earlier after we were 5-0,” San Clemente senior quarterback Dylan Mills said. “Coach was big on us not being complacent. We learned our lesson the hard way, losing by one point to Murrieta. Hopefully there wasn’t any of that, but I know our guys were excited about tonight.”
The Tritons were excited to claim at least a share of the South Coast League championship with the win over Capistrano Valley (7-2, 0-2), and San Clemente can earn the outright title with a home win over Tesoro in their season finale next Friday, Oct. 27. Tesoro (5-4, 1-1) lost at home to Mission Viejo (6-3, 1-1) on Friday, 36-0.
San Clemente could also solidify its spot in the CIF-SS Division 1 playoff field with the outright league championship. The Tritons entered the week No. 9 in the CalPreps rankings, and with Division 1 either being an eight, 10 or 12 team bracket, San Clemente is in the mix.
“There’s coaches out there that play into that and look into that and the formulas, but where we fall is where we fall,” Ortiz said. “We can only control what we can control. Our goal is to be league champs, and after that, we’ll worry about playoffs.”
With the Tritons on the edge of a league title and the Division 1 playoffs, senior running back Aiden Rubin is on the edge of program history. Rubin’s touchdown runs of 11 yards and 52 yards in the second quarter put his season total at 21 total touchdowns, one away from the single-season San Clemente record set by Josh Ferrell in 2006.
Rubin, the leading rusher in Orange County, carried the ball 13 times for 130 yards at Capistrano Valley. At 1,543 rushing yards this season, Rubin is also within reach of the San Clemente single-season rushing yards record.
While the Tritons offense has leaned on Rubin, San Clemente also saw an opportunity to get its passing game going against the Cougars. Mills completed 14 of 18 passes for 206 yards, including touchdown passes of 36 yards and 7 yards to Cole Herlean in the third quarter.
Mills hit Herlean in stride down the Tritons sideline on the 36-yard bomb, and on the 7-yard strike, Herlean cut in from the left off a pick play by Max Kotiranta for the catch and walk-in score.
“Last week, (the pass game) wasn’t exactly where we wanted it to be,” Mills said. “This week, we feel like we developed it pretty well. The coaches put in a great game plan for man- and zone-beaters all day long.”
As always, San Clemente defense stepped up for the Tritons this week, with Max Gonzales jumping on Capistrano Valley’s first pass attempt of the game for an interception and 23-yard touchdown return. Gonzales also grabbed the game-icing pick-six last week against Mission Viejo.
Broderick Redden pulled in his first career interception in the fourth quarter, Zeke Rubinstein and Connor Bachhuber also wrapped up sacks for the Tritons.
Junior quarterback Tommy Acosta played valiantly for Capistrano Valley with 100 yards passing and 51 yards rushing, including a fourth-quarter touchdown run. Cougars senior running back Cash Moormann ran for 69 yards, including a 35-yard score in the second quarter.