COSTA MESA - Coach Jeremy Osso looked across the field, his Costa Mesa High players piling on top of each other as if they found gold.
The Mustangs had stormed the football field one second too soon before and Osso had to call them back to the sideline.
The second time, they didn’t need Osso’s blessing to go crazy Friday night.
Osso just watched the Mustangs celebrate after holding on to beat Laguna Beach, 38-30, and claim the Orange Coast League championship, the school’s first outright league title since 2002.
Throughout it all, Osso appeared composed. It wasn’t easy watching the end.
The Breakers’ attempt to make it a two-point game with no time on the clock ended when the receiver dropped a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone.
Out went a league championship tie. Osso got a kiss from his wife, allowing him to stay cool.
Seeing his Mustangs put up a fight in the regular-season finale at Estancia helped, too.
“Normally in situations like this, our kids wilt,” Osso said. “They get down early and they just think, ‘Oh, nothing can happen [to turn it around].’
“They stayed with it and they rose to the occasion.”
The Mustangs battled back after going down, 22-0, in the opening quarter. In boxing, that’s a knockout.
This was for the ultimate prize, not like last year when Costa Mesa shared it with Estancia. Two opponents entering the game with identical records, winner takes home the hardware.
Osso guided Costa Mesa (5-5, 4-0 in league) to its third unbeaten outright league title in school history. It took him only three years as the head coach to accomplish the feat.
He was part of the previous outright league championship team in 2002, when he was an offensive coordinator under Coach Dave Perkins.
The Mustangs earned this crown after an impressive defensive performance in the final three quarters and an overpowering running game featuring two 100-yard performers in Antwon Byrd and Robbie Gemayel.
Laguna Beach (4-6, 3-1) had one workhorse. Zach Smith amassed a career-best 303 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries.
The key was that the Mustangs only allowed Smith to score once in the second half. He gave the Breakers a 30-24 lead with 4:57 left on a one-yard touchdown.
The Mustangs rallied behind backup quarterback Brian Waldron to win their fifth straight game.
With 63 seconds left, Waldron scored the second of his fourth-quarter touchdowns, putting the Mustangs ahead, 38-30.
“At first I thought it was over,” Waldron said. “Then I looked at the scoreboard and they still had a chance. We had to buckle down.”
Smith was impossible to contain, but with the Breakers having to pass on their final possession, the option to pound Smith wasn’t there because of the 57 seconds left on the clock.
Laguna Beach benefited from an excessive celebration penalty on Costa Mesa, giving it excellent field position after a 16-yard return to Costa Mesa’s 44.
Quarterback Austin Paxson went to his favorite target, Chris Paul.
The receiver caught two passes. The second put the Breakers on the 15.
Paxson fired Paul’s way three straight times. The last attempt fell incomplete with no time left.
A pass interference call on Costa Mesa gave Laguna Beach another shot.
This time, the offense was at the seven. No time left.
The Mustangs huddled one last time.
“I just told them, ‘One more play!’ ” Waldron said.
Paxson rolled to his left and finally went to someone not named Paul and the pass bounced off the intended receiver’s chest and to the ground.
“We had the rough start [at 0-5] and everybody kind of wrote us off,” said Osso, whose team will learn Sunday its opening-round opponent in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs. “It’s all in the draw [we get if we can win a playoff game]. We have to be able to prove that we can beat a team.”
COSTA MESA 38, LAGUNA BEACH 30
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Laguna Beach 22-0-0-8--30
Costa Mesa 0-10-7-21--38
LB – Smith 82 run (Paddon run), 11:19.
LB – Smith 10 run (Snedegar kick), 7:58.
LB – Paul 34 pass from Paxson (Snedegar kick), 0:16.
CM – Byrd 7 run (Solis kick), 11:11.
CM – Solis 35 FG, 1:53.
CM – Byrd 3 run (Solis kick), 6:33.
CM – Waldron 2 run (Solis kick), 9:44.
LB – Smith 1 run (Smith run), 4:57.
CM – Miller 1 run (Solis kick), 1:59.
CM – Waldron 13 run (Solis kick), 1:03.
LB – Smith, 34-303, 3 TDs; Snedegar, 2-14; Jaffe, 1-2; Paxson, 5-minus 1; Paul, 1-minus 4.
CM – Byrd, 25-149, 2 TDs ; Gemayel, 11-126; Waldron, 6-35, 2 TDs; Miller, 2-8, 1 TD; Haynes, 2-7; Pederson, 2-4; Davis, 2-minus 2.
LB – Paxson, 6-12-0, 90, 1 TD; Paddon, 1-1-0, 43.
CM – Davis, 6-8-0, 80.
LB – Paul, 7-133, 1 TD.
CM – L. Gomez, 4-64; Waldron, 2-16.