WESTMINSTER — The first halftime song to play Friday night at Westminster High was "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey.
The host Lions may not have stopped believing, but like 22 teams before them, their resistance was futile against the Corona del Mar High football team. The belief got a little more far-fetched after CdM junior running back Cole Martin ripped off a 63-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, as well as every time the Sea Kings stopped scrambling Westminster quarterback Daniel Thomsen for a minimal gain.
Top-seeded CdM excelled on offense and defense, putting together a 37-14 victory over the No. 4-seeded Lions in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division semifinal playoff game. CdM, the two-time defending Southern Division champion, will play second-seeded Garden Grove in the championship game Dec. 6. Garden Grove beat Irvine, 49-27, in another semifinal game.
The championship game is a rematch of last year's title game won by CdM, 35-10, at Angel Stadium. Coach Scott Meyer said this year's game would be played at Orange Coast College.
"The defense has been unbelievable all year long, and the offense too," said Meyer, whose team extended to a school record 33-game winning streak. "[Tonight] we start the game with a score, and come and out start the third quarter with a score. We get up on teams, and it helps our defense even more. It's just been a great team run, especially the last few weeks."
Westminster (8-5) put together its best offensive effort on its opening drive. The Lions went 10 plays, driving the ball as far as the CdM 20-yard line. But the drive stalled, and a 32-yard field goal attempt was eventually missed wide left.
The Sea Kings (13-0) responded with an eight-play drive, sparked by a 30-yard completion from senior quarterback Luke Napolitano to junior receiver Max Chozen. On third-and-goal from the four-yard line, Napolitano found senior tight end Connor Sage to give the Sea Kings the early advantage.
CdM's next two drives ended on a punt and a turnover-on-downs. But midway through the second quarter, the defense got on the board. Junior cornerback Chad Redfearn easily intercepted Thomsen's pass at the Westminster 46 near his own sideline, before running into the middle of the field. He eventually made his way to the Lions' sideline, where a couple of teammates provided a caravan into the end zone.
Napolitano added a one-yard keeper with 30 seconds left in the half, and CdM was rolling. Napolitano was again sharp, completing 12 of 14 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. He has not thrown an interception in the playoffs.
Napolitano gave credit to the Sea Kings' experienced offensive line and returning running backs, receivers and tight ends.
"We're a lot more familiar with the offense in the third year," Napolitano said. "This is our third year with these coaches, and for a lot of us, this is our third year in the program … It's playoffs, so I'm super-motivated and I really want to do good and step up as a leader on the field and off the field."
Defensively, CdM was able to contain Thomsen, who came into the game with more than 1,500 rushing yards. He didn't come close to 100 yards Friday night, finishing with 68 and a late touchdown. The Sea Kings' front four of juniors Harrison Carter, Parker Chase, Mat Flores and Justin Hess controlled the line of scrimmage, helping CdM force Westminster into seven plays resulting in negative yardage.
"We were very cautious about [Thomsen], and we loaded the box to stop him," CdM senior safety Charlie Griffin said. "We knew he was dangerous on his feet, so we had safeties rolling down, safeties going kind of in linebacker positions."
Westminster put up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter on CdM's second-string defense, one coming after a 13-yard punt gave the Lions excellent field position. They were the first touchdowns that CdM has allowed in the playoffs. They still weren't nearly enough to stop the Sea Kings, ranked No. 24 in the state by CalHiSports.com, from earning a chance for their third straight Southern Division title.
Meyer ran into the huddle at the end, although he had to hurdle a photographer to get there.
"I almost went down," Meyer said. "When I took off, I was worried."
The chant after the brief post-game talk? The same as always: "Chase the ring."
"I'm super-excited to be in the finals and play Garden Grove again," Griffin said. "I know that they had a lot of juniors last year, brought a lot of guys back. They're going to be really good."
The Sea Kings certainly won't stop believing. Their journey to that ring has just one game left. CdM football has never won three straight CIF titles.
Corona del Mar 37, Westminster 14
SCORE BY QUARTERS
CdM 7 – 13 – 17 – 0 — 37
Westminster 0 – 0 – 0 – 14 — 14
CdM – Sage 4 pass from Napolitano (Neiger kick), 4:22.
CdM – Redfearn 46 INT return (Neiger kick), 7:12.
CdM – Napolitano 1 run (kick blocked), 0:30.
CdM – Martin 63 run (Neiger kick), 10:58.
CdM – Battista 13 run (Neiger kick), 8:46.
CdM – Neiger 36 FG, 4:15.
West – Thomsen 1 run (Miranda kick), 6:51.
West – Maciel 25 run (Miranda kick), 2:42.
CdM – Martin, 15-138, 1 TD; Battista, 8-69, 1 TD.
West – Maciel, 12-77, 1 TD; Thomsen, 20-68, 1 TD.
CdM – Napolitano, 12-14-0, 154, 1 TD.
West – Thomsen, 8-15-1, 44.
CdM – Chozen, 3-84; Collins, 5-44.
West – Tran, 4-23.