Corona del Mar High has faced few football teams all season that could slow its passing attack.
Simi Valley Grace Brethren has faced few teams that could slow its rushing attack.
The clash of styles is just one reason why the CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship game, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Newport Harbor High, offers intrigue. It’s a rematch of last year’s Division 4 title game, won 26-14 by Grace Brethren at Simi Valley Royal High.
This time, top-seeded CdM (13-0) has a home game at Davidson Field against the No. 2 Lancers (12-1). And the Sea Kings have things they learned from last year’s title game, coach Dan O’Shea said.
“You can’t turn the ball over against an equal opponent, and you have to be able to stop the run game against Grace Brethren,” O’Shea said. “It is literally that simple. We threw three interceptions inside their 25-yard line [last year], and we did not defend the run game as well as we had hoped. That’s a recipe for disaster … we didn’t play very well that night based on our standards, and they were a very deserving winner and champion.”
CdM is averaging 45.6 points per game and returns 10 starters on offense from last year, giving University of Washington-bound senior quarterback Ethan Garbers both ample time to throw and multiple weapons who can catch. Garbers has 4,342 passing yards, 62 touchdown passes and five interceptions this year. He has also been comfortable keeping it himself, with a season-high 12 carries for three touchdowns last week in a 48-21 semifinal win at No. 4 Mission Hills Alemany.
Garbers’ top targets in the passing game are Stanford-bound senior receiver John Humphreys (86 catches for 1,705 yards and 28 touchdowns), senior slot receiver Bradley Schlom (75 catches for 1,055 yards and 15 touchdowns) and Washington-bound senior tight end Mark Redman (58 catches for 794 yards and 12 touchdowns).
“Practice has been going great for the whole year, and we’ve definitely been clicking on all cylinders,” Garbers said. “It’s been great. We have a lot of confidence going into this game, because we know we can score on just about anybody that we think. That definitely adds to our confidence.”
Grace Brethren outlasted No. 3 La Habra 49-45 in a semifinal game, when junior quarterback Mikey Zele scored on a five-yard touchdown run with just two seconds remaining in the contest. The Lancers are trying for their third straight CIF title, as they won Division 8 in 2017.
Senior running back Josh Henderson, the son of the Grace Brethren coach who has the same name, is a key player for the Lancers. He has 177 carries for 1,359 yards and 28 touchdowns, and he scored five times in the semifinals. Junior running back Julien Stokes, a transfer from Calabasas, has 114 carries for 1,233 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“I thought Josh Henderson was the best pure football player in the division last year, and Julien Stokes is electric,” O’Shea said. “It’s almost like that old lightning and thunder. Josh Henderson is the thunder, and Julian Stokes is certainly the lightning.”
They will come up against a Sea Kings defense that has been playing well, even if it lacks the big stars. O’Shea proudly calls it a no-name defense, pointing to the fact that the Sea Kings have had just one scholarship player on defense in his nine years with the program — linebacker Clyde Moore of the 2018 class, now at Colorado.
Senior outside linebacker and team captain Mason Gecowets leads the CdM defense with 82 tackles, while senior cornerback Chandler Fincher has three total interceptions in the team’s last two playoff wins. Senior linebacker Chase Zanck is another force with 52 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks.
“Our offense is amazing, but I think our defense is really good, too,” Gecowets said. “We’re kind of underrated for how we play ... I think we’re ready, to be honest with you. We have the revenge factor from last year, so we’re going to be going into the game just hungry.”
O’Shea has downplayed that word, “revenge,” but he knows that an opportunity to play Grace Brethren again is a special one.
“They’re an incredibly worthy opponent,” said O’Shea, who will try lead CdM to its sixth section crown in program history. “To try to win a title, you want to be able to beat the champion, and that’s what’s in front of us.”
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