The thought that the coach of a top-seeded playoff team could consider itself to be David in a “David versus Goliath” matchup would appear to be ludicrous.
Dan O’Shea, the coach of the Corona del Mar High football team, clarified that, saying that while his team may not be as big, size does not matter.
The No. 1 Sea Kings (11-1-1) are set to square off with No. 3 Simi Valley Grace Brethren (11-2) on Saturday in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 championship game. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. at Simi Valley Royal High.
All the talk is about the stark contrasts in the teams’ style of play. In the playoffs, CdM has blown teams away with a high-powered aerial attack. In three playoff wins, the Sea Kings are averaging 49 points per game, while posting an average victory margin of 34.7 points.
Conversely, Grace Brethren has run the ball on more than 80% of its offensive plays this season. The Lancers have a trio of 300-pound offensive linemen in Cole Smith, Tiafau Taivai and Jay Toia.
“I don’t think that there has been a football game since I’ve been here that we’ve ever been the bigger team,” O’Shea said. “Not one. We know exactly who we are and how we have to play to be successful.
“We’ll always be smaller than all of them. It doesn’t matter to us. The way that we play is not based on size. It is based on strength, speed and toughness.”
So O’Shea is stopping short of calling his team underdogs. The Sea Kings have often found a way to win games as the undersized team in an era that has seen them advance to five CIF championship games in eight seasons.
Nevertheless, CdM knows it is in for a knock-down, drag-out fight. If the Sea Kings are going to be exactly what they have been, they will be looking to strike quickly on offense, and that could leave the defense on the field for long stretches.
“We know our offense is going to score points and get off the field quick, so we’re going to be on the field,” CdM senior defensive end Ethan Jajonie said. “This week, we’re rotating a lot of people that we usually don’t.”
Rotating in fresh legs is one way the Sea Kings hope to combat the physicality of Grace Brethren. Another difference between the teams is that CdM predominantly has its players compete on offense or defense.
O’Shea said that Stanley Taufoou, Soane Toia, Jay Toia, Justin Skidmore, Josh Henderson and Trenton Gill all play on both sides of the ball for the Lancers.
Taufoou, a fullback and inside linebacker, and Jay Toia, a tackle and nose guard, are both committed to USC. They also serve as blockers for Lontrelle Diggs, a 5-foot-8, 225-pound running back who O’Shea likened to a high-school version of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis.
“His lower-half legs, they’re tree trunks, as thick as can be,” O’Shea said. “It’s unbelievable.”
In the semifinals last Friday, Grace Brethren fell behind 21-0 on the road against Villa Park. When the fourth quarter rolled around, the Lancers had attempted just three passes. They managed to come back and win the game 34-31 in overtime.
Diggs has carried the ball 313 times for 2,183 yards and 32 touchdowns. O’Shea said that the Lancers have fully committed to the running game, often supplying two lead blockers for their running backs.
“They’re down 21-0 to Villa Park, and they still just run it,” O’Shea said. “That’s what they do. They just feel that it will wear you out, and it’s like taking a baseball bat to your head 70 times in a row on Friday night.
“Our guys are prepared to take on the baseball bat.”
The Sea Kings will counter by sending numbers into the tackle box themselves, hoping to provide themselves with favorable down-and-distance situations.
“They have a lot of formations where they have two tight ends, two or three running backs, so our defense is just stacking the box, trying to stop the run,” Jajonie said.
There are parallels to the last time that CdM appeared on the championship stage. In 2016, the Sea Kings had to go on the road to face Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, a game they lost 36-35 in double overtime.
The Sea Kings may once again have trouble gaining separation from their opponent in a final that is likely to have limited possessions.
“Nobody on this team wants to experience that again,” CdM senior linebacker Luke Fisher said. “Nobody wants to see the faces that we saw. Actually, two of those seniors that were on that CIF loss team are now [assistant] coaches [Teddy Barber, who coaches the outside linebackers and Jaydin Moses, who coaches the running backs], so we’re all pulling together.