San Clemente Coach Mark McElroy wandered around the field, almost in a daze.
"I'm in tears," McElroy said. "I can't believe it."
Reality was a few feet away. The Tritons were in wild celebration following their 23-17 upset of top-ranked Mater Dei Friday at San Clemente.
The ramifications were immediate and far reaching. The victory left the Tritons tied for second place with the Monarchs, one game behind Capistrano Valley in the South Coast League race. It snapped the Monarchs' 21-game winning streak and might have been the most important San Clemente victory in 15 years.
"We kept believing," defensive back Reagan West said. "We had speeches before the game and speeches at halftime. But the big thing was we believed."
The defense had to, providing the offense with plenty of opportunities.
The Monarchs committed five turnovers, including four fumbles. The turnovers led to 17 San Clemente points. The Tritons also limited running back James Farley to 60 yards rushing. Farley gained 243 against Trabuco Hills last week.
Triton defensive back Sean Kolmer had the biggest takeaway. He stepped in front of tight end Rod Fraser and intercepted a pass from Nick Stremick, returning it 19 yards to the Monarch seven-yard line to set up the go-ahead score. Quarterback Chris Boden ran seven yards on the next play for a 23-17 lead with 8 minutes 39 seconds left.
"I saw him looking that way and he threw the ball right to me," said Kolmer, who has five interceptions this season. "I knew then we were going to do it."
It still took two more defensive stands. But the Tritons held the Monarchs without a first down the remainder of the game.
"The defense made the big plays all night," said Kolmer, who also forced a fumble.
They had to.
San Clemente (6-2, 2-1) was going against a defense that had not allowed more than 14 points in a game all season. The Monarchs were true to form in the first half, limiting the Tritons to 36 yards.
Mater Dei led, 10-3, at halftime. The Tritons' only score followed the first of two Farley fumbles. It led to a 37-yard field goal by John Fowle.
The Monarchs fumbled deep in their territory on their first two possession. They also saw Elliott Richardson muff a punt, which set up another scoring opportunity. But the Tritons got only the one field goal.
A week ago, San Clemente wasted three first-half scoring chances in a 19-10 loss to Capistrano Valley.
"That was starting to creep back in my mind," McElroy said.
Boden, who was sacked seven times, got hot in the third quarter. He completed 14 of 17 passes, including the last 10, in the second half. He threw for 240 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for two touchdowns.
Mater Dei's offense was basically limited to great Stremick passing to David Castleton. Stremick threw for 195 yards and Castleton made caught eight passes for 121 yards, including touchdowns of 14 and 45 yards.