Forget all the flash and glitz, the big plays and the gala offensive shows. El Toro won its Southern Section Division V championship with a little sweat.
The Chargers, who topped 35 points seven times this season, handed their hopes over to the defense Friday. It didn't disappoint, holding on for a 27-17 victory over Servite in front of 10,000 at Santa Ana Stadium.
Four times the Charger defense was asked to protect a seven-point lead in the second half. Each time it made the plays.
The Friars' last gasp ended with 1 minute 21 seconds left, when quarterback Greg Cicero was hit first by Damian de Beaubien, then by Kyle Lauby. His wobbly pass got close to tight end Chris Bystedt, who was smacked by defensive back Jeremy Jarrett. With those three strikes, the Friars were out.
El Toro took over on the Servite nine and got a cosmetic field goal from Chad Johnson.
"They scored some points, but it was by luck," de Beaubien said. "We knew we had to stop it. That's all we had to do."
It sounds easy, but in practice it got downright difficult.
A 32-yard field goal by Chad Johnson gave the Chargers a 24-17 lead with 2:52 left in the third quarter. The Charger defense then went into its smothering act.
Jarrett stopped one drive by wrestling Servite receiver Brian Brennan to the ground a yard short of a first down. The Friars had to punt.
Grady Fike ended the next drive with an interception.
Servite (11-3) got to the El Toro 27-yard line with less than eight minutes left. On first down, running back Vince Reed swept right, then pulled up to pass. He found nose tackle Tony Grammatico in his face. Reed's floating pass was intercepted by Brent Chipperfield at the two.
In all, the Chargers forced four turnovers, including two interceptions by Chipperfield. This from a defense that had been good, but not spectacular, during the season.
"Our defense played very spectacular tonight," Coach Mike Milner said. "We preached all week about making the big plays. We don't get many turnovers. Tonight we got four."
They needed them.
Quarterback Greg Cicero worked to make up for the running game, which netted only 51 yards on the ground. Vince Reed, who entered the game with 946 yards, gained 33.
Cicero finished 20 of 32 for 283 yards and two touchdowns. His nine-yard touchdown pass to Stephan Ward cut the Charger lead to 21-17 with 8:46 left in the third quarter.
Servite blew an opportunity. El Toro quarterback Steve Krupp pitched wide on a running play, with the ball rolling to midfield. Two Servite players had a chance to fall on it, but instead tried to pick it up. El Toro recovered and eventually got a Johnson field goal.
The Charger defense took it from there.
Cicero was only four of 10 with one interception after throwing the touchdown pass to Ward.
"They didn't do anything differently," Servite Coach Larry Toner said. "They just played great football."
Said Jarrett: "Everyone talks about our offense and forgets about us."
No one will after Friday. The Chargers bailed out an offense that had hit the skids. El Toro averaged 33 points, with two 50-point performances, and seemed well on its way to another offensive spectacular.
Running backs Murle Sango and Richard Oates, the Chargers' two 1,000-yard rushers, were having their usual showcase nights.
Sango finished with 120 yards rushing and caught four passes for 68 yards. He had a 29-yard touchdown reception.
Oates gained 90 yards in 12 carries, including a 25-yard touchdown run. Those two, along with Krupp, seemed to have the Chargers (12-2) well on the way to victory.
Krupp was 14 of 21 for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
"It doesn't matter the score, as long as we win," de Beaubien said. "We had a goal and we accomplished it."