By Steve Breazeale
With less than one minute to go and with his team trailing visiting Cabrillo by four points, San Clemente football head coach Jaime Ortiz called quarterback Sam Darnold’s number.
With the ball on their own 33-yard line Darnold ran a quarterback draw straight up the middle of the Jaguars defensive front and took it 64 yards, ending up three yards short of a touchdown. But Darnold was not done there. Two plays later, he punched in the winning score to put the Tritons up for good 35-32 and end a physical back and forth nonleague contest on September 6.
“He’s an athlete. The kid made some great plays late in the game and we kind of rode him to victory to some extent,” Ortiz said of Darnold.
A wild second half that saw four lead changes set the stage for Darnold’s late game heroics.
The Tritons (2-0) were clinging to a 21-19 lead to start the third quarter, when the Jaguars started utilizing a variety of effective backs. Cabrillo junior Rico Martin accounted for 33 of the 90 yards the Jaguars accrued on a scoring drive that made it 25-21 just before the fourth quarter. Martin would run in a one-yard touchdown carry.
After stopping Cabrillo on a fourth down and eight scenario midway through the fourth quarter, something the Tritons defense wasn’t able to do in the first half, San Clemente took over with decent field position.
The Tritons soon found themselves in their own fourth down situation, this time a fourth and two, and Darnold threaded a pass to a diving Blake Gonzalez for 13 yards, breathing new life into the drive. Darnold would break for one of his three rushing touchdowns one play later to give San Clemente a 28-25 lead.
One minute later Cabrillo was threatening with an answer and faced another fourth and long with the ball on San Clemente’s 41-yard line. But a 15-yard Tritons penalty allowed Cabrillo another shot and quarterback Kaelon Price immediately connected with Martin for a 34-yard scoring strike with just over one minute left.
Darnold would follow that up with his big run moments later. Darnold ended the night with 175 passing yards and two passing touchdowns. He ran the ball 14 times for 176 yards and scored three times on the ground.
The Tritons defense, which allowed big plays to Cabrillo in the first half, made their biggest plays late in the game and forced Price to throw eight straight incomplete passes during a stretch of the fourth quarter.
The Cabrillo (0-2) offense did not see the field in the first quarter of the game, and they didn’t have to. Five minutes into the game Jaguars senior Darren Gardenhire took a Tritons punt 95 yards into the end zone to open the scoring. The Tritons ensuing drive would eat up the rest of the first quarter clock.
The Tritons would score their first two touchdowns on short passing plays between Darnold and senior tight end Jason Wright, who reeled in passes from three and eight yards, respectively, that put the Tritons on the board early.
Cabrillo was able to keep the game close despite facing fourth and long several times throughout the night.
In the first quarter Price threw to senior Rashead Johnson for a 34-yard touchdown on fourth and six. The Price-Johnson tandem would be successful again with three minutes remaining in the second quarter, when they hooked up for 20 yards on fourth and four that kept an eventual scoring drive alive.
“It’s a great battle for us to come back and get the victory but there are some things we have to improve on,” Ortiz said. “That’s hard when you get them in fourth down situations, you have to pin them down and you have to make those plays. In order for us to be competitive in the preseason and in league we have to make those plays.”
The Tritons will now travel to play Dana Hills on September 12 in a nonleague matchup.
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