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CdM defense does trick

CARSON — Corona del Mar High football defensive coordinator Dan O'Shea is not one to beat around the bush.

The Sea Kings had a historic run this season, including their third straight CIF Southern Section Southern Division title. They didn't stop there. There they were Saturday afternoon at the StubHub Center, competing in the CIF State Division III Bowl Game just four days before Christmas.

CdM became the first team in state history to finish 16-0 after defeating Atherton Sacred Heart Prep, 27-15. The reason why was simple to O'Shea.

"As a coaching staff, we feel that we coach the best kids in the state of California," O'Shea said. "They show up every day with a work ethic that's unprecedented."

O'Shea has done a lot of winning. He spent six successful years at Trabuco Hills, where he still teaches U.S. history, before coming to CdM in 2011. As far as unprecedented accomplishments, this year's defense at CdM just might be one of them.

Since All-CIF senior starting linebacker Alex Moore tore his ACL in late September, the Sea Kings have started 10 juniors on defense.

Nope, that's not a misprint.

Meet linemen Parker Chase, Mat Flores, Justin Hess and Harrison Carter. Say hello to linebackers Hoyt Crance, Robbie Hoffman and Hugh Crance, as well as defensive backs Barrett Barbato, Brett Greenlee and Chad Redfearn. Safety Charlie Griffin was the only senior starter on defense.

They say age is nothing but a number, and O'Shea isn't going to argue that.

"Last year, we started seven sophomores [on defense] in the [CIF Southern Section Southern Division] title game," he said. "But these kids can play. We don't care if they're a sophomore, junior or senior. We don't look at the class, we look at if they can play, and these kids buy into the culture that we've established."

The defense helped CdM take a 21-0 lead in the first quarter on Saturday. Barbato gave the Sea Kings the three-touchdown edge when he jumped a route to intercept Gators quarterback Mason Randall. Fifty-eight yards later, he was in the end zone with 11 seconds left in the quarter.

"I was getting a little curl drop in," said Barbato, who led CdM with 10 tackles Saturday. "The quarterback was looking straight at the [receiver], and I guess he didn't see me. Right when he threw it, I just jumped up, got it and took it in."

Sacred Heart Prep steadied itself and was down just 21-15 headed into halftime. The Gators got the ball to start the second half, too, so they appeared to have momentum.

But CdM's defense was able to shut down the Gators (13-2), who came into the game averaging 280.6 rushing yards per contest. Junior Ben Burr-Kirven rushed for 170 yards and four touchdowns himself in last week's 42-7 win over El Cerrito in the Northern California Division III regional title game.

In the CIF State Division III Bowl Game, Sacred Heart had just 181 yards rushing and averaged 4.4 yards per carry.

More importantly, the Sea Kings got takeaways. First it was Hess stripping the ball from the quarterback from behind on Sacred Heart's opening possession of the first half, with Chase recovering the fumble. That led to a Jason Neiger field goal, giving CdM a 24-15 edge.

Sacred Heart was driving on its next possession, but a fumbled handoff was recovered by Hess. And, on the second play of the fourth quarter, Hugh Crance recovered when an option pitch play hit the turf.

Chase, who came into the game needing two sacks to tie a single-season CdM record, didn't get any. But he was fine with it.

"I'll trade it in [for the state title]," said Chase, who ended the season with 16 sacks. "They ran the ball most of the time … [Having 10 juniors starting on defense] really gets us excited for next year. All of the same guys, already united."

The final turnover CdM caused was a turnover on downs. It also loomed large as Sacred Heart drove deep in Sea Kings territory late in the fourth quarter, threatening to make it a one-possession game. On fourth-and-10, a pass was caught over the middle by Andrew Daschbach. But Daschbach was driven out of bounds by Barbato and Redfearn, a yard short of the first down at the CdM eight-yard line.

There was no way Barbato was going to let Sacred Heart convert its fourth fourth-down conversion of the game. Less than five minutes later, the Sea Kings were state champions.

"It's great to put in all this hard work that we put in throughout the whole season," Barbato said. "Finally, we got the state championship. After 16 games, the season's over, and now we're moving on."

Carter, who said he watched last year's Division III Bowl Game on television with some friends, said it was very fulfilling to play in it this year. The Sea Kings will take a 26-game winning streak into 2014.

"We all had our hopes up and were talking about winning state," Carter said. "That probably made us work as hard as we did in the off-season, in the weight room and during spring football into the summer."

The bulk of the defense will be back. And while O'Shea credits the players, the players credit him, which sounds like a recipe for success.

"I think we all live off of Coach O'Shea's enthusiasm," Carter said. "His personality lives in every single one of the players. And I played flag football with several of these people, in [Newport-Mesa Junior All-American] Seahawks with multiple players on defense. We just had a balance together, through the years of elementary school and everything. I feel like it makes us who we are on our defense.

"No one is selfish. Everyone would take on a block for another person. Everyone plays for each other on defense. It's pretty cool."

Winning a state championship could be categorized the same way.

"We have high hopes for next year, too," Carter said. "I think everyone, in the back of their minds, wants to do it again and keep the streak alive as long as we're at the high school. Some of us are going to other sports, like baseball and lacrosse, but the majority of us are staying in the weight room. We're going to be working hard and be even better for next year."

Give the Sea Kings time to celebrate Saturday's victory. But also understand, this is more than just a one-year thing.

"The culture of the program started back in 2011 with that group," O'Shea said. "The defensive identity of the school is such that they take such pride in being perfect with every key, every pass, every run thing. It was created by the guys in front of them, and these guys have just carried it on."

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