Marina High claimed its first CIF Southern Section football championship last week. It was Dane Brenton who played chief catalyst in the Vikings’ title-game victory, a most fitting circumstance.
The junior receiver and safety came out of nowhere this season to help lead a versatile receiving corps and dynamic secondary as Marina, also from nowhere, soared to unprecedented heights.
Brenton made a first-half touchdown catch and came up with two big interceptions to cement the No. 2-seeded Vikings’ 18-9 triumph over No. 4 Pasadena Muir in the Division 11 final on Nov. 29 at Westminster High.
Brenton, an Edison transfer who arrived on campus following last year’s football season, was a most unexpected addition to head coach Jeff Turley’s group. He provided an extra dimension that was key to the Vikings’ first league championship since 1986, first winning season since 2000, first playoff appearance since 2001 and first sniff at a trophy since, well, never.
And now Brenton has Marina making its debut in the CIF State playoffs. Marina (12-2) will host La Jolla (9-4) in the Southern California Regional Division 4-A Bowl Game at Westminster High on Saturday at 6 p.m. The winner advances to the state title game on Dec. 14.
“I don’t even know how to describe it,” Turley said when asked what Brenton means to his team. “I mean, the guy came here, he lifted our team up, he’s a big playmaker, he’s been doing it all season. He goes out and, both sides of the ball, he’s making plays and been a tremendous help in giving us depth and another weapon and all that.
“He’s a quiet guy who goes out, does what you ask him to do, and does it real well.”
Brenton did so splendidly against Muir, giving Marina a second-quarter lead and going deep for two picks — and an assist on fellow star Eric Church’s interception — to shut down the Mustangs’ revered long-ball game.
A year ago, Brenton was an unknown at Marina. He had played on Edison’s freshman and sophomore football teams, but Turley hadn’t heard of him and wouldn’t get a look until the Vikings’ soccer season was over in February. The first real chance arrived during the spring seven-on-seven season and Brenton caught everything.
“What I liked about him,” Turley said, “[I noticed at one point that] I haven’t seen him drop a ball yet. And, really, he had great hands, impressed me a lot. If it was near him, he was catching it.”
Brenton hadn’t played defense, but he had the necessary tools and proved a quick learner. And he returned kickoffs and punts, so he rarely left the field. The Vikings were better for it.
He’s Marina’s top receiver, with 38 catches for 673 yards and 13 touchdowns, has a team-best five interceptions — one brought back for a score — and leads the Vikings in kick-return yardage, averaging 29.3 on kickoffs and 26.3, with a touchdown, on punts.
Brenton was at his best in the title game. He beat man coverage on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Gavin Del Toro and then caught the two-point-conversion pass to provide an 8-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“It was third-and-four, the running game was not working too well, and I was hoping for a deeper play,” Brenton said. “That’s what they called, and it was my time to shine.”
He’d intercepted a long pass deep in Marina territory meant for Muir star Calen Bullock in the first quarter, and came up with a bigger interception in the fourth quarter to set up Church‘s 30-yard field goal that extended the Vikings’ lead to 18-7 with less than five minutes to go.
“I knew they were going to be throwing deep a lot, so I knew the opportunity [to make big plays] was coming,” Brenton said. “The second one was my better one: The ball was on a perfect line and would have been an easy touchdown for [Bullock] if he would have caught it. I’m running over there, and I just laid both of my arms out, hands open, and over the shoulder and it landed in my hands. A decent return [for 62 yards], too.”
Edison has a rich football tradition, something Marina has not possessed, but all Brenton knew about the Vikings was that they used to play in the Sunset League. Marina, which snapped a 60-game losing streak in the Sunset League three years ago, moved to the Big 4 League in 2018.
“I was hearing we weren’t too good, that we weren’t, like, the best, and I was, like, we can’t be thinking like that,” said Brenton, who helped the Vikings go 3-0 in the Big 4 League this year. “I wanted to be different. I wanted to be the best team we could be, so I pushed my team and I pushed myself hard, and we just tried to do the best that we could, and every day we worked, and it worked out pretty well.”
He found like-minded allies, such as Church, a veteran receiver and safety who leads the defense, Del Toro and fellow quarterback Jack Miller, among many. Turley, who won five CIF championships as defensive coordinator at Long Beach Poly, has been slowly building a program that draws strength for the collective.
Brenton was a key piece, but just one piece.
“As important as Dane is, this whole team is important,” Turley said. “We’ve had kids step up in every position. It’s a team effort ... a bunch of guys all working together for one goal, and it’s pretty special.”
Born: Jan. 13, 2003
Hometown: Huntington Beach
Height: 6 feet 2
Weight: 175 pounds
Coach: Jeff Turley
Favorite food: Sushi
Favorite movie: “Pacific Rim”
Favorite athletic moment: Winning the CIF Southern Section Division 11 championship. “I’ve never been happier,” he said.
Week in review: Brenton caught a 25-yard touchdown pass and followed with a two-point-conversion reception to give Marina a lead over Muir in the CIF Southern Section Division 11 final, intercepted two long passes — returning one 62 yards to set up a field goal — and made four tackles as the Vikings pulled out an 18-9 triumph on Nov. 29 at Westminster High.
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.