Ahead of Thursday night’s final game of the regular season at Garden Grove High, Marina coach Jeff Turley said his football team prepared no differently with the chance of an outright Big 4 League title on the line.
“Just another step in the staircase,” he said.
Marina took that step in stride with a 28-6 win over Garden Grove to claim the school’s first undefeated league championship since 1986 and first CIF Southern Section playoff berth since 2001.
The Vikings (8-2, 3-0 in league), who won eight games for the first time in 34 years, will learn of their first-round opponent in the Division 11 playoffs on Sunday, when the section releases the brackets.
“We’ve been working so hard for this,” said Vikings senior running back Pharoah Rush, who rushed 14 times for 110 yards and a touchdown. “We’ve been working since freshman year for this. It’s a dream come true for it to be happening right now.”
The last time Marina won a league crown was 33 years ago in the robust Sunset League, which it was a member from 1964 to 2017. After losing 60 straight league games from 2004-16, the Vikings needed a new league, a level playing field.
In its second year in the four-team Big 4 League, Marina has found success rather quickly.
After a sluggish start on offense, the Vikings made a switch at quarterback on Thursday. They replaced starter Jack Miller with Gavin Del Toro as the two rotated on each drive.
The change paid off. Del Toro lobbed a 20-yard pass to the back of the end zone to find a leaping Eric Church to open the scoring with 3:34 left in the first half.
“The two of them complement each other,” Turley said of his two quarterbacks. “I know they both would love to have the total for both of them added up, but the fact is for our division they’re up towards the top and that’s pretty nice to have two quarterbacks that high up.”
Miller returned on the next drive and produced a 14-yard touchdown pass to Dane Brenton on a two-minute drill to end the first half. Despite the touchdown pass, Miller threw two interceptions on seven-for-12 passing.
The ground game was dominated by Rush, who ran for a 30-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“I’m just reading whether or not they’re coming at me,” Rush said. “Usually they go outside to block me, to keep me from coming in, and it’s just me reading their hips.”
Del Toro started the third quarter for Marina, highlighting a drive with a 20-yard run to Garden Grove’s five-yard-line. Shyheim Lloyd punched it into the end zone from five yards out, giving Marina a 21-0 lead.
While the Vikings made strides in their own run game, Marina’s defense came prepared for Garden Grove’s ground game. The Vikings forced a pair of red-zone fumbles in the first half but failed to get points off the two resulting drives.
The Vikings spent most of the first quarter on the defensive, absorbing a seven-minute opening drive that resulted in a fumble on third and goal on their three.
Later in the half, Marina attempted a punt, but Garden Grove (4-6, 1-2) blocked the ball to set up a short drive on Marina’s 18. However, the Argonauts failed to capitalize, fumbling the ball away.
With the outright league title, Marina might have secured one of the top two seeds in the Division 11 playoffs. The Vikings went into their regular-season finale ranked No. 2 in the division, behind Beaumont (8-1, 3-1 in Mountain Pass League), which wraps up the regular season against Perris Citrus Hills (7-2, 2-2) on Friday.
But first, the Vikings plan on cleaning up on penalties and making smoother mid-game adjustments ahead of the postseason.
“We’ve got some work to do,” Turley said. “We’ve got a couple days here before we find out who we play, so we have time to fix this.”
Big 4 League
Marina 28, Garden Grove 6
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Marina 0 – 14 – 7 – 7 — 28
Garden Grove 0 – 0 – 0 – 6 — 6
M – Church 20 pass from Del Toro (Church kick), 3:34.
M – Brenton 14 pass from Miller (Church kick), 0:20.
M – Lloyd 5 run (Church kick), 9:45.
M – Rush 30 run (Church kick), 8:45.
GG – Lobaugh 20 pass from Rodriguez (pass failed), 2:58.
M – Rush, 14-110, 1 TD.
GG – Sanchez, 9-26.
M – Miller, 7-12-2, 56, 1 TD.
GG – Rodriguez, 8-12-0, 97, 1 TD.
M – Church, 4-53, 1 TD.
GG – Lobaugh, 5-47, 1 TD.
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