Corona del Mar High wrapped up its year with the ultimate gift: a perfect season.
The Sea Kings' historic football season concluded right before Christmas, as they claimed the CIF State Division III Bowl Game with a 27-15 win against Atherton Sacred Heart Prep at the StubHub Center in Carson Saturday afternoon. The result secured CdM's place in history as the first high school football team in California to finish a season 16-0.
Coach Scott Meyer led the Sea Kings to their longest season in school history. Along the way, CdM won a second straight Pacific Coast League title and a third straight CIF Southern Section Southern Division title, and a CIF State Southern California Regional Division III Bowl Game title.
"I think we all feel good now. It might hit us after [Saturday]," said Meyer, who in his three years in charge of the Sea Kings has posted a 40-4 overall record. "The kids kept us energized and it's a great bunch to coach."
Meyer even kept the coin that was used during the coin toss. An official handed it to him afterward.
•Corona del Mar pushed its winning streak to 26 games. The Sea Kings tied Los Alamitos and Mission Viejo for sixth-longest winning streak in Orange County history.
The Sea Kings' 26-game winning streak is currently the longest in the state. Concord De La Salle held the title with 40 straight victories, until it lost to Bellflower St. John Bosco, 20-14, in the CIF State Open Division Bowl Game at the StubHub Center on Saturday night.
Before St. John Bosco attempted to become the second team in the state to produce a 16-0 season, Meyer was asked if he was going to root for De La Salle.
"We got some friends on the St. John Bosco staff, so we're going to pull for those guys," said Meyer, who didn't stick around for St. John Bosco's 8 p.m. game against De La Salle.
•Twenty-one are the number of points CdM scored in the first quarter against Sacred Heart Prep.
To put the amount in perspective, the Gators had only allowed three teams to score 21 or more points against them in their previous 27 games in the last two years.
"It was great to jump out to that 21-0 lead, because in a game against a team that good, it's not something you really expect," said Meyer, who in the opening quarter saw quarterback Luke Napolitano throw a five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Bo St. Geme and tight end Connor Sage, and safety Barrett Barbato return an interception 58 yards for a touchdown.
Even with CdM's fast start, Meyer said he knew it wasn't over. In the second quarter, CdM turned the ball over and punted for the first time and each led to Sacred Heart Prep touchdowns.
Two linebackers hurt the Sea Kings. Andrew Robinson, playing defense, returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown, and then Ben Burr-Kirven, playing offense, rushed for a 47-yard touchdown. They cut the deficit to 21-15 at halftime.
•The second half is when CdM's defense elevated its play, recovering three fumbles and making two defensive stands in the red zone.
Corona del Mar defensive lineman Justin Hess forced Sacred Heart Prep quarterback Mason Randall to fumble 1 1/2 minutes into the second half. Parker Chase, a defensive end, recovered the ball on the opponent's 31.
The turnover led to Jason Neiger's 31-yard field goal, giving CdM a 24-15 lead with 7:37 left in the third quarter.
Almost 2 1/2 minutes later, CdM came away with another fumble. And this time it was Hess, who finished with seven solo tackles, pouncing on the ball and stopping Sacred Heart Prep's offense inside CdM's 20-yard line.
Hugh Crance, an outside linebacker, recovered the third fumble, near midfield. The turnover resulted in a 35-yard field goal by Neiger, who made it 27-15 with 7:11 left to play.
"We kept on getting fumbles and turnover after turnover really helped us out," said Chase, who helped the defense shut out Sacred Heart Prep in the second half.
•Barbato played lights out for CdM.
He closed out the first quarter with his 58-yard interception return for a touchdown. For the game, he finished with 10 tackles, all solo.
Barbato, with 4:20 left in the game and the Sea Kings up, 27-15, also made a key play inside CdM's 10-yard line.
From the 17, the Gators went for it on fourth-and-10. They had gone for it on fourth down four times in the first half, converting three of them for first downs.
Sacred Heart Prep's only fourth-down attempt in the second half failed because of Barbato.
Randall completed a pass to tight end Andre Daschbach. Before Daschbach could convert a first down, Barbato pushed him out of bounds, one yard shy of the first down.
Barbato, who was one of 10 juniors starting on defense, believes CdM can make another run to the state finals next year. Every one returns, except for senior safety Charlie Griffin.
"We got some returning starters on offense, too, a lot of good playmakers," said Barbato, referring to junior tailback Cole Martin, sophomore tailback Anthony Battista, and junior receivers Cole Collins, St. Geme and Max Chozen.
•Four CdM offensive players finished with CdM single-season school records.
Napolitano, a senior, is the passing yards (2,645) and completions (197) leader. He finished with 25 passing touchdowns, two shy of Brent Lawson's record of 27 set two years ago.
Napolitano said he's considering playing football at the University of Pennsylvania, Yale and the University of San Diego.
Martin rushed 28 times for 155 yards against Sacred Heart Prep, finishing as CdM's leader in rushing yards (1,870), rushing touchdowns (21) and total points (126).
Collins and St. Geme share the top mark for receptions (60). Collins is the receiving yards (1,000) leader.
•Sacred Heart Prep came away with three turnovers, two second-quarter interceptions and a third-quarter fumble, but the Gators only produced one touchdown, coming on the pick-six.
•With the five starters on the offensive line being seniors, Meyer said CdM would have to rebuild in the trenches.
The biggest loss will be center Giovanni Gentosi. He closed out his three-year varsity career with his 44th straight start.
"I couldn't have asked anything better out of this team, out the high school experience that I got," Gentosi said.
Gentosi, who's 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, plans to play football in college. He said Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the University of Redlands and the University of San Diego are interested in him.
•If there's a team that wants to play CdM next season, the Sea Kings have an opening during the nonleague portion of their schedule.
Meyer said CdM is looking for a Week Zero opponent.
The Sea Kings already have a strong nonleague schedule lined up, playing Back Bay rival Newport Harbor, a CIF Southern Section Southwest Division finalist, Tesoro, a CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division quarterfinalist, Dana Hills, which made the Southwest Division playoffs, and El Toro. El Toro played CdM the toughest in 2013, before the Sea Kings held on for a 24-21, thanks to Brett Greenlee blocking a potential game-tying field-goal try in the waning seconds.
Meyer added that CdM is scrimmaging at his alma mater, Long Beach Wilson, before it opens the 2014 season.