By Steve Breazeale
When the San Clemente High School football team takes the field at Thalassa Stadium to play in the semifinals of the CIF-SS Southwestern Division on Nov. 28, they will square off against a familiar foe.
Capistrano Valley, who finished third in the Sea View League and earned an at-large bid into the playoffs, has barnstormed their way through the postseason and will take the short trip south to play San Clemente at 7:30 p.m.
The two teams first played each other in league competition during Week 6 of the schedule. San Clemente put the game out of reach at the half and cruised to a 54-27 victory behind a strong rushing performance.
But that was over six weeks ago and this Cougars team has been playing some inspired football of late.
Capistrano Valley outscored third-ranked La Habra 20-7 in the fourth quarter of their first-round matchup to squeak out a 44-42 victory over the reigning Freeway League champions. In the second round, against Valencia, the Cougars never trailed in a 26-7 win.
Cougars senior quarterback Gavin Pruett has thrown for 557 yards and five touchdowns with an interception in the playoffs. Junior running back Jordan Bocko and senior receiver Adam Gordon have made plays all over the field, accounting for six offensive touchdowns and one punt return touchdown in the postseason.
“I think they’re playing very good football … They’re playing with confidence and flying around the ball on defense. They’re doing a good job offensively scoring points,” San Clemente head coach Jaime Ortiz said. “I think them coming in as an at-large team, they’re very well respected and their kids are playing well. We have to make sure we’re ready.”
Capistrano Valley may be hot right now, but the Tritons have been dominant for nearly a month, especially in the playoffs.
Tritons senior quarterback Sam Darnold threw five touchdowns and ran for one more in the team’s 56-6 win over Foothill last week in the second round. Darnold was one score shy of setting a school record for touchdown throws in a game. His 67 yards rushing on 10 carries was the most for him in a game since Sept. 5.
Darnold has been connecting with what seems like the entire Tritons receiving corps of late and the running tandem of sophomore Brandon Reaves and junior Vlad Dzhabiyev has been just as effective as the passing game at times.
In two playoff matchups, the Tritons have outscored their opponents by a combined 99-20 margin.
“On offense, we’ve got to continue what we’re doing. I think we’re playing better than when we played (Capistrano Valley) last time … Right now, the kids are firing on all cylinders,” Ortiz said.
For in-game updates from the Tritons semifinal game against Capistrano Valley, follow us on Twitter @SouthOCsports.