In his final regular season home game as head coach of the Mission Viejo high school football team, Bob Johnson was on pace to do two things he’s accustomed to: win and beat San Clemente.
Johnson, who has been at Mission Viejo since 1999, is the third-winningest coach in California state history, inching closer to 343 wins. He’s coached high school football in Orange County for 35 years, with stops at Los Amigos and El Toro prior to Mission.
The Diablos improved to 11-0-1 against San Clemente since 2004 with a 49-21 victory Friday night and clinched the South Coast League title and a probable top-five seeding in the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs.
Mission Viejo (10-0, 4-0) dominated on the ground from the outset, led by two-way junior standout Akili Arnold. Arnold finished with 178 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns, both of which came in the first half.
Diablos quarterback Joey Yellen bounced back from a slow start, throwing for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
The Diablos took control early, scoring 21 unanswered points in a 2:01 span of the first quarter after punting on their first possession.
Yellen hit Olaijah Griffin for a 56-yard touchdown for Mission Viejo’s first score of the game at the 3:32 mark of the opening period.
Diablos defensive end Reece Hite then recovered a San Clemente fumble on the Tritons’ next possession, setting up an eight-yard touchdown run by Arnold.
San Clemente (9-1, 4-0) turned it over again on its next offensive series as Christian LaValle picked off Tritons quarterback Brendan Costello and returned it 26 yards to set up a two-yard score from Arnold.
San Clemente tightened things up in the second quarter and took advantage of some Mission Viejo miscues.
The Diablos lined up offsides as San Clemente lined up for its third punt of the first half. The penalty gave the Tritons a first down and Austin Whitsett broke off a 40-yard run, which set up a one-yard score for himself on the next play, cutting the Mission lead to 21-7 with 7:24 left in the half.
The Tritons made it a one-touchdown game on a lucky play late in the half. Whitsett mishandled a handoff at the one-yard line and the ball trickled into the back of the end zone. Lineman Thomas Wade dived on the ball to make it a 21-14 Diablos lead with 1:06 before the break.