Sean Nolan pulls in a pass on the run and takes it to the end zone in Laguna Beach High’s CIF Southern Section Division 12 quarterfinal playoff game against Northwood at Irvine High on Friday.(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
The Laguna Beach High football team is heading to the CIF Southern Section semifinals for the fourth time in eight seasons after a 34-13 victory over Northwood in the Division 12 quarterfinals on Friday at Irvine High.
Senior standout Sean Nolan had touchdown receptions of eight, 63 and 35 yards, recovered a fumble that led to his first score and intercepted a pass that set up another touchdown to help the No. 2-seeded Breakers improve to 10-2.
Nolan, who is the Breakers’ record holder for single-season receptions (70) and career receptions (155), helped Laguna Beach advance to play at No. 3 Lakewood Artesia in the semifinals on Nov. 16. He had five catches for 152 yards against the Timberwolves.
Artesia (9-3) rallied to earn a 41-37 quarterfinal victory at Arcadia Rio Hondo Prep on Friday.
Laguna Beach reached the Division IX semifinals in 2011 and 2012, and got to the Division 13 semifinals in 2016.
Laguna Beach, which has lost in the semifinals six times and fallen in the section title game twice, is seeking its second CIF football crown. The school known more for prowess in volleyball, tennis and water polo, claimed the CIF Central Lower Division championship in 1946.
Breakers junior quarterback Andrew Johnson completed 17 of 38 passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns, though the visitors managed just 29 yards on 28 rushing attempts.
Senior running back Shane Lythgoe scored on a two-yard run late in the third quarter to up the Breakers’ lead to 27-7 and Johnson hit senior Kai Ball with a 34-yard scoring toss with 8:07 left to make it 34-7.
Ball, Lythgoe and Jack Pigott also had interceptions for Laguna Beach, which forced five turnovers.
The Breakers also limited the Timberwolves (8-4) to 10 rushing yards on 24 attempts. The Laguna Beach defense allowed no points in three first-half trips to the red zone for Northwood.
The Timberwolves, however, were down only 13-7 midway through the third quarter, when a key sequence helped Laguna Beach reclaim the momentum. Facing a fourth-and-10 at the Northwood 40-yard-line, the Breakers lined up in punt formation, apparently content to try to pin the Timberwolves deep.
But after an encroachment penalty made it fourth-and-five, Laguna Beach used a timeout to deliberate the opportunity and elected to go for the first down. What followed was a 35-yard scoring pass to Nolan, who dodged one tackler and ran past another to produce his 18th touchdown reception of the season. It was Nolan’s 20th touchdown overall in 2018.
Lythgoe stood out defensively at linebacker, while senior defensive end Caleb Mostajo was also a stalwart for Laguna Beach.
Northwood amassed 286 passing yards, but three passers connected on just 16 of 34 attempts as the Breakers applied consistent pressure.
Northwood junior starting quarterback Jaden Piazza completed 10 of 19 for 204 yards, before giving way in the third quarter to senior backup Tanner Buck.
Buck hit Travis Arena with a 10-yard touchdown pass with 6:27 left to finalize the scoring in a game that took nearly three hours.
CIF Southern Section Division 12 playoffs
Laguna Beach 34, Northwood 13
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Northwood 0 – 7 – 0 – 6 — 13
Laguna Beach 7 – 6 – 14 – 7 — 34
LB – Nolan 8 pass from Johnson (Handel kick), 4:20.
N – Kim 1 run (Littlejohn kick), 6:15.
LB – Nolan 63 pass from Johnson (kick failed), 1:26.
LB – Nolan 35 pass from Johnson (Handel kick), 5:03.
LB – Lythgoe 2 run (Handel kick), 1:36.
LB – Ball 34 pass from Johnson (Handel kick), 8:07.
N – Arena pass from Buck (kick failed), 6:27.
LB – Lythgoe, 12-34, 1 TD.
N – Locke, 1-10.
LB – Johnson, 17-38-2, 314, 4 TDs.
N – Piazza, 10-19-2, 204.
LB – Nolan, 5-152, 3 TDs.
N – Arena, 7-105, 1 TD.
BARRY FAULKNER is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5