For much of Friday night, the Laguna Beach High defense had to feel pretty good about what it had accomplished.
The Breakers had avoided the big play, and they made some of their own. It culminated in a surprising double-digit lead at halftime, but all that had gone right seemed to go south in the fourth quarter.
Orange quarterback Jason Wilkinson led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, and the Panthers stunned the Breakers, 26-19, in a nonleague football game at Laguna Beach High.
Wilkinson hit Jordan Schmidt in stride over the middle for the game-winning 40-yard touchdown with 1:06 remaining.
The loss was Laguna Beach’s second to come in its opponent’s final possession. The same scenario played out in the Breakers' defeat against Westminster La Quinta.
On the Panthers’ first drive of the fourth quarter, the Breakers (1-3) were unable to stop the run. Syrus Collins picked up 31 yards when he reversed course in the backfield.
The next series saw Wilkinson turn a sure-fire loss of yardage into a 22-yard gain when he broke a pair of tackles to reach the Breakers 2. He ran across the goal line for the touchdown two plays later, and he repeated that process for the game-tying two-point conversion.
“Coach [Robert Pedroza] just told me to do anything you can to win,” Wilkinson said of his long run to set up the score. “I just tried to put my body on the line for him.”
“I love these guys, and I’m willing to take any shot I can to help us win the game or get that first down that we need.”
Adding to that line of thought is the fact that Orange missed the playoffs last year, despite posting a 7-3 record. The Panthers beat CIF-SS Division 13 finalist Santa Ana in Golden West League play, but they had to forfeit the win due to the participation of an ineligible player.
“We know that we got robbed, so we just came back harder,” Wilkinson added. “Coach told us every game this season means something to everybody, so we try to put that forward every time we step on the field.”
Collins broke a 61-yard run for the Panthers in the third quarter. It set up a 23-yard field goal by Nick Guzman with 5:34 left in the period.
Coming into the game, Orange (3-0), the top-ranked team in Division 13, had outscored its opponents 100-14 through its first two contests. Laguna Beach scored more points in the first half than the Panthers had allowed this season, thanks to the duo of Curtis Harrison and Sean Nolan.
Nolan made a handful of outstanding plays. His 58-yard touchdown on a streak route from Harrison was his easiest play of the night.
On the more spectacular side, he took the ball away from Collins on a jump-ball in the end zone. Nolan would add a finger-tip grab for a big gain in the second quarter.
For his finale, Nolan beat one-on-one coverage on the left side on a Hail Mary. He made the reception at the Panthers 4, breaking a tackle and extending the ball across the goal line with the clock expired for a 19-8 lead.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete,” Breakers coach John Shanahan said of Nolan. “Whether it’s football or rugby, he really stands out.”
“Just a phenomenal young man, a phenomenal athlete, and we’re lucky to have him.”
After the Breakers offensive outburst in the first half, the Panthers pitched a shutout the rest of the way. Junior defensive end Siuleo Kanatea had three sacks to lead the charge.
“It’s all a mind game,” Kanatea said. “Everyone’s got to do what they’re told, and we’ll do all right.”
Brian Fausto had a pair of interceptions for the Panthers.
Asked if his team had missed an opportunity with the loss to strengthen its resume for the CIF Southern Section’s at-large playoff berth committee, Shanahan said it will not matter.
“We’re going to win league, and we’re going to get into the playoffs,” Shanahan said. “I’m not worried. This is part of the process, and we’ve talked about it the whole time.”
“We’re going to come out, we’re going to win league, and we’re going to control our own destiny if we do that.”
Henry Syvertsen, Zach Fields and Caleb Mostajo each had sacks for Laguna Beach, with Kai Ball adding an interception.
Orange 26, Laguna Beach 19
Orange…………..8 0 3 15 — 26
Laguna Beach….13 6 0 0 — 19
Org — Schmidt 81 INT return (Schmidt run), 7:44.
LB — Nolan 58 pass from Harrison (Handel kick), 2:20.
LB — Harrison 39 run (Handel kick failed), 0:40.
LB — Nolan 33 pass from Harrison (Handel kick failed), 0:00.
Org — Guzman 23 FG, 5:34.
Org — Wilkinson 2 run (Wilkinson run), 9:30.
Org — Schmidt 40 pass from Wilkinson (Guzman kick), 1:06.
Org — Collins, 10-121.
LB — Harrison, 22-96, 1 TD.
Org — Wilkinson, 12-29-2, 164, 1 TD.
LB — Harrison, 10-29-3, 199, 2 TDs.
Org — Schmidt, 6-91, 1 TD.
LB — Nolan, 4-119, 2 TDs.