ANAHEIM — Game day for the Corona del Mar High football team began inside the program's fieldhouse. Players rolled in at 9 a.m., much earlier than any game this year.
Saturday's game started at 2 p.m. and it wasn't just any game.
Before the Sea Kings boarded the bus for Angel Stadium to play in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division title game for the second straight year, they ate breakfast. At this point, Coach Scott Meyer said the nerves set in.
"It's a big game and a big stadium," Meyer said. "It must be one of those pre-game butterflies."
Getting a defensive touchdown on the first play from scrimmage can shake off the nerves for a coach trying to lead a team to back-to-back section titles.
As the defense has done throughout the playoffs, Meyer saw it set the tone for CdM early. The unit didn't record a fourth straight shutout in the postseason, but top-seeded CdM turned in another dominant performance in a 35-10 win against No. 3 Garden Grove in front of 6,878 fans.
Two years as the leader of the Sea Kings and Meyer has guided them to two section crowns.
Before this season, Meyer joked that CdM was destined to repeat. When the program wins section championships, it does so in consecutive years.
For someone who hasn't been around CdM that long, Meyer is well aware of the school's history. The last time CdM won two straight section titles, it also only gave up 10 points in the 1989 finale after blanking the first three postseason opponents.
When the players gathered for team pictures, some players yelled "Three-peat!" instead of cheese. No CdM team has claimed three consecutive section titles.
"We'll definitely talk about that," Meyer said of making another run. "We have a lot of work to do in the off-season. We're going to celebrate this one right now."
And rightfully so.
For the second year in a row, the Sea Kings closed out the year 12-2 and as Southern Division champions. They didn't need to sweat this championship game out like last year's 14-13 victory against Beckman.
Twelve seconds into this year's title tilt, CdM found the end zone. The points were the first for the Sea Kings in the first quarter of any postseason game.
Leave it to the defense to produce the touchdown.
On first down, the Argonauts came out with a play-action pass and linebacker Alex Moore made his normal drop. Moore wasn't the intended receiver on quarterback Angel Martinez's pass, but it sure looked like it.
Moore picked off the pass at the 30-yard line and he said all he could think about was getting into the end zone as fast as possible. Before racing in for a pick six, the junior side-stepped Martinez near the five-yard line.
The defense made it a long afternoon for Martinez – with defensive backs Brett Greenlee and Barrett Barbato picking off Martinez as well and linemen Tim Reinhardt and Greg Williford sacking him – and whoever handled the ball for Garden Grove (11-3).
While the Sea Kings' three-game shutout streak in the playoffs ended midway through the second quarter, the defense was responsible for 10 of CdM's points. Six points on the interception return for a touchdown and four points on two safeties.
"I think we peaked at the right time," said Moore, who finished with eight tackles and was part of a defense that only gave up one touchdown in the postseason.
The touchdown by Garden Grove came with 6:53 left to play and the game already decided. Meyer said he felt the Sea Kings had the title wrapped up in the fourth quarter, after senior Cayman Carter's second one-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown gave CdM a 32-3 lead.
With how stingy CdM's defense has played, Meyer said there was no way the Argonauts could come back. The Sea Kings held Garden Grove to almost 30 fewer points than its per-game average going into Saturday.
The Argonauts were no stranger to being on the big stage. They played in their third Southern Division final in four years. The latest was their lowest offensive output.
Garden Grove had a chance to cut the deficit to 14-7 midway through the second quarter. The offense reached the Sea Kings' one, only to settle for a 24-yard field goal.
The biggest field goal belonged to CdM kicker Griff Amies and it came almost 31/2 minutes into the fourth quarter. The senior converted a 43-yard try, giving him 22 field goals for the year and tying him for the state single-season record.
Amies might have broken the mark, if it wasn't for a roughing-the-kicker penalty on Garden Grove that gave CdM a first down late in the first half. Instead of settling for Amies' 25-yard field goal and a 19-3 lead, the offense accepted the penalty and came back onto the field.
Facing a first-and-goal at the four, CdM ran Carter, who led the team with 21 rushes for 68 yards. With seven seconds left before halftime, the Sea Kings decided to run another play, rather than kick a field goal.
"We decided to take a shot [at a touchdown]," Meyer said. "[Amies is] more happy to have that CIF ring than [breaking] the [state] record [for most field goals in a season]."
Wide receiver Troy Reese said Carter, who threw for 203 yards and one touchdown on 16-of-27 passing, and seniors like Chris Johnstone (four catches for 103 yards) wanted to go for a touchdown as well.
"We just threw it up to me and good things happen[ed]," Reese said.
Good things do happen right before halftime of section title games whenever CdM goes to Reese. The 6-foot-4 Reese also caught a touchdown pass with two seconds to go in the first half of last year's section championship game.
The latest opportunity for Reese was a jump ball Carter threw in the corner of the end zone. With two defenders on the senior, Reese came down with the ball for a six-yard score with three seconds left, giving CdM a 23-3 lead.
"I guess I just had to do the same thing this year," Reese said with a big smile, as he and his teammates walked off the field as champions again.
CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs
Corona del Mar 35, Garden Grove 10
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Garden Grove 0 – 3 – 0 – 7 – 10
Corona del Mar 14 – 9 – 2 – 10 – 35
CdM – Moore 30 interception return (Amies kick), 11:48.
CdM – Carter 1 run (Amies kick), 3:18.
GG – Carrillo FG 24, 6:18.
CdM – Safety: punt snap out of end zone, 2:30.
CdM – Reese 6 pass from Carter (Amies kick), 0:03.
CdM – Safety: Reinhardt tackles ballcarrier in end zone, 9:30.
CdM – Carter 1 run (Amies kick), 11:51.
CdM – Amies 43 FG, 8:45.
GG – Huff 9 pass from Martinez (Carrillo kick), 6:53.
GG – Del Real, 7-67.
CdM – Carter, 21-68, 2 TDs; Wilson, 9-19; Martin, 2-14; Crance, 8-minus-1.
GG – Martinez, 15-26-3, 173, 1 TD.
CdM – Carter, 16-27-0, 203, 1 TD; St. Geme, 1-1-0, 34.
GG – Huff, 5-81, 1 TD.
CdM – Johnstone, 4-103; Martin, 7-68; St. Geme, 3-42; Reese, 3-24, 1 TD.