NEWPORT BEACH — The Corona del Mar High football team's helmet decals this season feature a big letter C with the word Kings scrolled horizontally across. And with the Sea Kings' 31-3 Pacific Coast League victory over visiting University Friday at Newport Harbor High the notion of royalty has proved prophetic.
With the win, combined with results from the other two league games Thursday and Friday, CdM (7-1-1, 3-0-1 in league) has clinched at least a share of its first league championship since 1999. A victory over host Beckman in the regular-season finale Friday at Tustin High would give the Sea Kings, ranked No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division, the program's first outright crown since 1988.
"That gives you a cushion," Hitchens said of a Beckman win over Irvine Thursday and Friday's Northwood triumph over Woodbridge, leaving Northwood alone in second with a 2-1-1 league record heading into the final week of the regular season. "But we really don't want to share anything. If we can close it out, that's kind of what we've been working toward here."
The Sea Kings wasted little time working toward Friday's victory, scoring on its first offensive play after forcing the Trojans (1-8, 0-4) to go three-and-out after taking the opening kickoff.
A 24-yard punt set the hosts up at the University 48-yard line and senior quarterback Mitch Gardner darted into the end zone on the ensuing snap to give the Sea Kings all they would need with 10:29 left in the first quarter.
University, which had managed only three touchdowns in its previous four games, answered with a 20-play procession that ended with a 26-yard field goal by Kiran Leucke.
But after Kyle Sherburne blocked a punt to set CdM up at the Uni 28 early in the second quarter, Gardner capped the short march with a nine-yard touchdown pass to junior Josh Giger that made it 14-3 with 8:54 left in the second quarter.
Strong CdM defense and a struggling kicking game for the Trojans continually gave the Sea Kings a short field.
After a 20-yard punt, CdM needed seven plays to drive 36 yards to up the lead to 18 with 4:40 left before halftime.
Cole Cottrell returned another punt five yards to the University 41 late in the third quarter, which led to a 41-yard field goal by Andrew Boehm with 1:33 left in the third period.
Two plays into the ensuing possession, senior inside linebacker Preston Risser returned an interception 19 yards to the Trojans' six-yard line to set up the final score of the night, a one-yard plunge by junior John Swigert.
CdM which held on downs to halt Uni's final first-half possession, held the Trojans without a first down on their first six possession after intermission. Uni's only first down of the second half came on the last series, when CdM had substituted on defense.
Uni collected six of its 10 first downs on its marathon first-quarter possession, which was 19 seconds shy of an even 10 minutes.
CdM's offense posted 11 first downs and, Hitchens said, failed to fully engage.
"We did all right the first half, I just don't think we ever found a rhythm offensively, whether it was the penalties or a lack of execution," Hitchens said. "Fortunately, the defense played very, very well to give the offense some opportunities on the short field."
Senior end Alex Herrera was in on two sacks and linebackers David Detrick and Aaron White were also foils for a Uni offense that had 168 yards on 55 plays, with 61 yards coming on a long completion moments before halftime.
But CdM, which scored more than its average and is now producing 29.7 points per contest, was anything but prolific on offense.
Gardner led the rushing attack with 54 yards on seven carries.
He completed nine of 17 for 83 yards, with no pass play gaining more than 13 yards and only three completions picking up double-digit yards.
"We certainly would like to just go ahead and be greedy," Hitchens said of the potential to gain the outright league crown by beating Beckman.
A CdM loss, combined with a Northwood win over Uni on Friday, would create a co-championship.
Since Corona del Mar and Northwood tied, 29-29, a coin flip would decide the league's No. 1 representative in the CIF playoffs.
Corona del Mar 31, University 3
SCORE BY QUARTERS
University 3 – 0 – 0 – 0 — 3
CdM 7 – 14 – 10 – 0 — 31
CdM – Gardner 48 run (Boehm kick), 10:29.
Uni – Luecke 26 FG, 0:48.
CdM – Giger 9 pass from Gardner (Boehm kick), 8:54.
CdM – Reinhardt 2 run (Boehm kick), 4:40.
CdM – Boehm 41 FG, 1:33.
CdM – Swigert 1 run (Boehm kick), 0:42.
Uni – Gammage, 14-54.
CdM – Gardner, 7-54, 1 TD; Fisher, 15-50.
Uni – Christy, 10-19-1, 98.
CdM – Gardner, 9-17-1, 83, 1 TD.
Uni – Stanek, 4-22; Caldeira, 2-72..
CdM – Gray, 6-48; Giger, 2-22, 1 TD.