Just about everything was going wrong for the Marina High football team in the first half of its CIF Southern Section Division 11 quarterfinal game.
Starting quarterback Jack Miller went down with an injury, his replacement, Gavin Del Toro, threw a pick-six and the Vikings trailed 14-7 with their season on the line.
“All year we’ve played strong second halves,” Marina coach Jeff Turley said. “It takes our kids a little bit of time to adjust to our opponents speed.”
Second-seeded Marina made a second-half surge to beat visiting Ontario Christian 24-21 on Friday night at Westminster High, advancing to its first semifinal since 1985.
The Vikings (10-2) will play on the road for the first time in this year’s playoffs, traveling to Hemet (8-4) on Nov. 22. Hemet edged No. 3 Pico Rivera El Rancho 35-32 in the quarterfinals at home.
As he’s done all season, Pharoah Rush led the Marina comeback against Ontario Christian (9-3).
Rush lit up the run game with bursts of 55 and 24 yards in the third quarter to set up a pair of touchdowns to flip the seven-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Rush also had a 32-yard rushing touchdown called back in the fourth quarter because of a holding penalty, but the senior still ran 18 times for 126 yards.
“He’s had a phenomenal year,” said Turley, who has led Marina to its first 10-win season since 1981. “This is him. It’s games where we’ve needed him to step up and he steps up.”
Marina benefited from a bit of luck in the fourth quarter as Ontario Christian prepared to punt from inside its own end zone. The snap hit a Knights blocker and the Vikings landed on the ball at the four-yard-line.
Despite the short field, Marina settled for a 27-yard field goal by Eric Church for a 24-14 lead with a little more than five minutes to play before the Knights quickly responded with a late touchdown.
Just before the end of the first quarter, Marina quarterback Jack Miller made a 20-yard dash around the left side on a third-and-one situation. But on the next play, his night ended.
Miller came under pressure and was tackled at the line of scrimmage. And when Miller got up, he was clutching his right shoulder. Turley said after the game it was a collarbone injury that “the doctor suspects a possible fracture.” He headed straight to the trainer’s table to receive treatment as Gavin Del Toro replaced him.
Marina’s two-quarterback system paid off.
“I’m very thankful that we could get that kid a lot of reps during the year,” Turley said of Del Toro, a junior. “It was no pressure. Just his turn to go in.”
Del Toro quickly found Justin Moen to get the Vikings to the one-yard-line, where Del Toro subsequently dove in to tie the game at 7-7 just 10 seconds into the second quarter.
But things began to go downhill for Marina. Del Toro threw an interception to Ontario Christian’s Connor Mooneyhan, who returned it for an 11-yard touchdown and a 14-7 halftime lead for the visitors. Marina had only 69 total yards on offense at halftime.
The offense picked it up in the third quarter, thanks to Del Toro.
In one of Del Toro’s mere nine attempted passes, he found Dane Brenton in the back-left corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown two minutes into the second half. Then, Del Toro punched in a go-ahead, one-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal with 4:07 left in the third quarter, giving Marina its first lead.
“I had faith in my offensive coordinators,” said Del Toro, who completed seven passes for 58 yards and helped the Vikings total 193 yards in the second half. “I knew we would win.”
Now the Vikings are one win away from playing for a CIF title for the first time in the program’s 56-year history.
“Just believe in each other,” Del Toro said. “If stuff goes south, just keep believing.”
CIF Southern Section Division 11 playoffs
Marina 24, Ontario Christian 21
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Ontario Christian 7 – 7 – 0 – 7 — 21
Marina 0 – 7 – 14 – 3 — 24
OC – Terriquez 2 run (Englebrecht kick), 7:41.
M – Del Toro 1 run (Church kick), 11:50.
OC – Mooneyhan 11 INT return (Englebrecht kick), 4:37.
M – Brenton 13 pass from Del Toro (Church kick), 10:07.
M – Del Toro 1 run (Church kick), 4:07.
M – Church 27 FG, 5:01.
OC – Nuno 18 pass from Serna (Englebrecht kick), 3:36.
OC – Ford, 12-91.
M – Rush, 18-126.
OC – Serna, 5-12-0, 91, 1 TD.
M – Del Toro, 7-9-1, 58, 1 TD.
OC – Englebrecht 2-57.
M – Riederich, 3-33.
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