There was no championship at stake for the winner, just a chance to continue in the playoffs for the top-seeded team and a proud defending champion.
In fact, top-seeded Servite’s 47-34 victory over El Toro, an at-large team, in Friday’s Southern Section Division V second round might have been better than last year’s meeting in the title game.
That game was won by El Toro, 27-17. This game wasn’t.
Servite (11-1) converted two second-half turnovers into 10 points, scored on all six of its second-half possessions, and got a school-record 446-yard passing performance from Greg Cicero.
Cicero completed 23 of 32 passes and threw for three touchdowns--two to Steve Ward.
Ward caught 10 passes for school-record 282 yards.
Servite plays fourth-seeded Newport Harbor next week.
The game of Cicero’s life?
“The game of a life will be the championship game,” Cicero said. “I have to give credit to my offensive line--they did a hell of a job.”
Cicero was sacked only once, and his protection enabled him to pick apart the El Toro secondary.
“Everything seemed to be clicking, " he said “we were patient on offense.”
Ward’s final touchdown, 23 yards, came on the heels of Murle Sango’s first fumble of the season.
Though El Toro Coach Mike Milner argued that contact with the ground caused the fumble, he lost; Chris Bailey returned it 12 yards, and on the next play, Cicero hit Ward going into the end zone. That gave Servite a two-touchdown lead, 34-20.
That margin was necessary because El Toro (6-6)--which racked up 482 yards of offense, including 320 by quarterback Mike Strand and 132 (on 12 carries) by Richard Oates--wasn’t finished.
Going to its no-huddle offense, the Chargers scored in three plays, the last a 63-yard pass to Brian Koupal.
But Servite’s offense was unstoppable. Field goals of 27 and 23 yards by Reed Mokler followed.
El Toro’s final score, a four-yard pass from Strand to Sango, made it 34-27 with the 2:04 left, but the onside kick went to the sure-handed Ward.
Sensing the need for a kill, Cicero threw deep to Ward for 44 yards, setting up Dan Cambay’s one-yard run in the final minute.
Sango caught eight passes for 85 yards and rushed seven times for 23; he scored two touchdowns.
“Everyone who walked in off the street to watch this game got their money’s worth,” Milner said. “I thought we would play this way. The key was how many points Servite was going to score against us.”
Servite was averaging 40.5 points per game, El Toro 30.6
“This was like a heavyweight fight, two guys slugging it out with one another,” Servite Coach Larry Toner said.