The clock favored the San Clemente High football team, not Corona del Mar. With 39 seconds left and the Sea Kings out of timeouts, the Tritons did the unthinkable on third down. Instead of taking a knee to run out the clock and end a three-game skid, they ran a play.
The run play gave CdM life.
The Tritons fumbled the ball, and chaos ensued after Talal Benahmed recovered it for the Sea Kings near midfield. An official ejected one San Clemente player for using foul language and angrily pointing in his direction for giving CdM the ball. Along with it came a 15-yard penalty on the Tritons.
The Sea Kings, down by five, took over at the opponent’s 41 with 32 seconds remaining.
Quarterback Ethan Garbers moved the offense halfway to the end zone on first down. He scrambled to his right for 18 yards before going out of bounds to stop the clock. He misfired on a pass on the next play, but the junior made sure his next attempt was on target.
Garbers threw a 23-yard touchdown to a wide-open Bradley Schlom over the middle with 11 seconds left, and the Sea Kings pulled off a dramatic 21-20 comeback win on the road Friday.
The Sea Kings, used to seeing Garbers’ older brother, Chase Garbers, work his late magic two years ago, have another Garbers throwing game-winning touchdowns. The latest gave CdM (4-1) its fourth straight win and momentum heading into the bye next week before opening Sunset League play against Edison on Sept. 27.
“There were a lot of flashes of his brother, [who is now a redshirt freshman quarterback at Cal],” CdM coach Dan O’Shea said. “I don’t know what their genes are, but ice runs in those veins in the Garbers family. They are calm when it’s the most chaotic environment around them and that’s about as good a quality you can have as a quarterback.”
Ethan Garbers, in his first year as the starting quarterback, completed 29 of 39 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns, rallying the Sea Kings, ranked No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 poll. Two of his touchdowns came in the fourth quarter, the other was a 15-yard strike to John Humphreys.
While Garbers threw two touchdowns to Humphreys (eight catches for 99 yards), including an 11-yarder in the second quarter, Schlom had the most receptions (11) and receiving yards (112). The last grab by the Mater Dei transfer amazed O’Shea.
“Are you [kidding] me? How do you [freaking] catch that ball?” O’Shea asked Schlom before embracing him and adding that Schlom “never drops anything.”
The Tritons did drop something, another heart-breaking setback. They suffered a 47-45 loss at San Diego Torrey Pines on Aug. 24, and a week later, they lost 38-35 at home to Carlsbad La Costa Canyon.
San Clemente (1-4), playing without standout linebackers Rob Farney and Kason Krebs because of injuries, gave this one away to CdM late.
“We were trying to just run the ball. We thought if we took knees, they’d still get the ball back with 30 seconds left,” San Clemente coach Jaime Ortiz said. “We wanted to try and just ice the game and get it over with. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done.
“[The four losses have] all came down to the fourth quarter. There’s an old saying, ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.’ We’re a pretty strong team, but we got to finish.”
The Tritons, the second Division 1 program CdM has faced this year, started strong on Friday.
The game’s opening drive lasted a little more than 6½ minutes. The Tritons ran 15 plays, 13 at the heart of the defense for 53 yards. Running back RJ Donaldson capped the 80-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run. They added another score about 2½ minutes later.
Brendan Costello, a senior committed to Oklahoma State, set up the touchdown with a 39-yard pass to Cian Smith down the right sideline. One play later, Costello’s one-yard keeper gave San Clemente a 14-0 lead with 2:47 left in the first quarter.
“They were hitting us in the mouth early. They were shoving it down our down throat,” O’Shea said. “For our defense to be able to respond and just give our offense another chance [was incredible]. We kept fighting.”
Despite losing two fumbles inside San Clemente’s 20-yard line in the second half, the last with 2:20 to go, the Sea Kings never quit. The defense only allowed a 41-yard field goal to Cole Thompson in the second half.
The Sea Kings trailed 17-9 at halftime. CdM’s first two points came on a safety midway through the second quarter.
The other two times the Sea Kings tried to get two they failed. Each two-point attempt came in the final quarter.
The first was right after Garbers and Humphreys hooked up on a touchdown at the 7:09 mark. A successful two-point try would have tied it at 17-17, but Garbers’ pass went over the head of Mark Redman.
The next two-point conversion would have extended the Sea Kings’ lead to three. Garbers fired it low and out of bounds to Humphreys. They didn’t need the two after all. Garbers had done enough in the come-from-behind victory.
“We got this!” Garbers said. “We can’t wait [for league].”
Corona del Mar 21, San Clemente 20
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Corona del Mar 0 – 9 – 0 – 12 — 21
San Clemente 14 – 3 – 0 – 3 — 20
SC – Donaldson 1 run (Thompson kick), 5:21.
SC – Costello 1 run (Thompson kick), 2:47.
CdM – Punter stepped out of end zone for safety, 6:45.
CdM – Humphreys 11 pass from Garbers (Schroeder kick), 4:11.
SC – Thompson 29 FG, :00.
CdM – Humphreys 15 pass from Garbers (Schroeder kick), 7:09.
SC – Thompson 41 FG, 3:12.
CdM – Schlom 23 pass from Garbers (pass failed), :11.
CdM – Vicencio, 12-47.
SC – Donaldson, 25-81, 1 TD.
CdM – Garbers, 29-39-0, 305, 3 TDs.
SC – Costello, 12-18-0, 151.
CdM – Schlom, 11-112, 1 TD.