Over the last three seasons, high school football power in Orange County has shifted to the sea.
During the 1990s, Sea View League teams have won more playoff games than any other league in the county.
“From top to bottom, there’s not a better league around,” Irvine Coach Terry Henigan said. “It’s scary. I’ve never seen this type of balance.”
This season, three Sea View League teams--No. 4 Irvine, No. 7 Newport Harbor and No. 9 Santa Margarita--are ranked in the Orange County Top 10.
In the Southern Section Division IV poll, six teams--Newport Harbor, Irvine, Santa Margarita, Tustin, Woodbridge and Corona del Mar--are ranked among the first 12.
“It’s unfortunate, but you look at those polls and you realize that two very good football teams will stay home and not make the playoffs this year,” Newport Harbor Coach Jeff Brinkley said.
Last December, Brinkley watched Irvine defeat Newport Harbor, 30-8, in the Southern Section Division IV championship game.
Irvine’s victory culminated a season in which three of the four Division IV semifinalists--Corona del Mar, Irvine and Newport Harbor--came from the Sea View League.
In 1991, three Sea View League teams--Tustin, Woodbridge and University--advanced to the Division VI semifinals. In the ‘90s, the league is 22-10 during the playoffs.
“I’ve always thought that the Sea View League may not have been the most powerful league, but it was the most competitive,” University Coach Mark Cunningham said.
While Empire League powers Esperanza and Los Alamitos have won three Southern Section championships and 18 playoff games, Loara (two victories) is the only other Empire team to win a playoff game in the ‘90s.
South Coast League teams are 15-7 during the playoffs this decade.
Depth has raised the Sea View League to another level.
In 1991, University finished fourth in the six-team league with a 5-5 record. But the Trojans upset second-seeded Garden Grove, 7-0, in the first round and advanced to the semifinals.
In 1989, Corona del Mar finished fourth, losing three league games. But those were the only losses suffered by the Sea Kings, who made the playoffs as a wild-card team and then won the Division VI championship.
“When you get to playoffs it is an advantage,” Brinkley said. “Teams out of the Sea View League feel like they’ve been in the playoffs, you notice that same type of intensity all season long.”
Irvine was introduced to that intensity last season, entering the league after winning the South Coast League title and the Division II championship in 1991.
“We’ve been wanting to get in this league for years,” said Henigan, the Irvine coach. “We’d been the odd man out for so many years in the South Coast, and we wanted to get in with our local schools.”
Now, Irvine gets to play in a league with its natural rivals, University and Woodbridge.
“I think Irvine has the No. 1 program in the county right now,” El Toro Coach Mike Milner said. “The South Coast League has been down for the past few years. Right now, the Sea View League is an extremely tough and competitive league.”
Pending final approval of league realignment by the Southern Section Council, El Toro will join the Sea View League next season.
Tustin and Saddleback will leave to enter a new league and University will move to the Pacific Coast League.
Said Cunningham: “I have mixed emotions about leaving the league; reaching the semifinals in ’91 was the biggest accomplishment in football for our school.”
University begins what should be its final season in the Sea View League, against Tustin tonight at Tustin High.