TUSTIN — It wasn't pretty, at all.
No, far from it.
But when the Corona del Mar High football team looks back on Friday's 17-15 nail-biting victory over Beckman at Tustin High, it will seem nothing but a thing of beauty.
For the first time in 22 years, the Sea Kings are an outright league champion after holding off the Patriots to cap a 5-0 run that gives them an undisputed Pacific Coast League championship.
Not only was it not pretty, but CdM's eighth victory of the season didn't come easy.
The Sea Kings had to survive an improbable 51-yard touchdown pass on fourth down by the Patriots with 53 seconds remaining, then watched a potential-tying two-point pass slip off the fingertips of running back Zack Rivera.
A recovery by CdM's Aaron White in a heated pile on the ensuing onside kick preserved the win.
CdM shared a league title in 1999.
"What do you say to that?" CdM Coach Jason Hitchens said. "It was ugly most of the time. I think we had four turnovers and we did everything to give the game away. But we found a way to win, and that's what counts."
The Sea Kings capped their first possession with a 10-yard scoring pass from Mitch Gardner to Matt English. The big play during the five-play, 49-yard drive was a 33-yard pass from Gardner to Clay Reinhardt that put the Sea Kings at the Beckman 10-yard line.
And that's where the teams stood at the half, a first half both had to be glad to get out of the way.
After completing his first two passes, Gardner went on to three interceptions, two picked off by the Patriots' Elijah Steen, on his final four attempts of the half. The Sea Kings also fumbled the ball three times in the half, losing one.
Beckman cut the lead to 7-3 with Brian Traut's 27-yard field goal with 8:35 left in the third quarter.
CdM answered with a 29-yard Andrew Boehm field goal with 3:21 to go in the quarter.
The Patriots put together their biggest drive of the night at the outset of the fourth quarter, moving from their own 20 to the CdM 9. On third down, Cameron Biedgoly lofted a pass that Zack Rivera somehow went high to grab over Markel for the score. The Patriots went for two but running back Jeff Kim, who led all rushers with 101 yards on 29 carries, was stopped short of the goal line by a host of Sea Kings.
The CdM defense played well much of the night. Beckman was in CdM territory four times but on each occasion was turned away. Three of the stops came on fourth-down plays including an interception by Pete Markel in the back of the CdM end zone with 24 seconds left in the half.
Cole Cottrell also had a first-quarter interception deep in CdM territory.
"Our defense played a phenomenal game and kept us in this thing," Hitchens said. "We couldn't generate anything on offense but our defense sure was great. We made some big plays tonight."
None was bigger than the one that happened with 3:40 left in the game.
CdM was clinging to a 10-9 lead and punting, English pounced on a fumble by Rivera who mishandled the ball on the return. That set the Sea Kings up at the Patriots' 18 and they went on to gain some breathing room on a five-yard touchdown run by Erik Fisher. Boehm's kick gave CdM a 17-9 advantage.
"We came up with some big stops but that fumble recovery on the punt was huge," Hitchens said of Beckman's first and only fumble of the game.
Another key stop came midway through the fourth quarter and CdM still up 10-9. The Patriots had the ball at midfield but Sea Kings senior linebacker David Detrick came up with a huge sack of Biedgoly that resulted in an 11-yard loss.
Beckman struck one final time in the final minute. On fourth-and-10, Biedgoly hit a wide open Will Barring who grabbed the pass between Markel and Cottrell at the CdM 20 and raced to the end zone. On the two-point try, Biedgoly was dogged by linebacker Alex Herrera, who had a standout game, and was forced to throw on the run. His pass was high to the side line and went off the finger tips of Rivera in the end zone with 53 seconds left.
White recovered the ensuing onside kick, CdM ran out the clock and left with what it came to claim in Tustin: an outright championship.
"That part of it is phenomenal," Hitchens said. "For these kids to go 0-5 in league last year, and come back this year to go undefeated, is unbelievable. I'm so happy for them."
Third-ranked Corona del Mar opens the CIF Southern Division playoffs at home next Friday. The Sea Kings will learn who their first-round opponent is at Sunday's selections meeting.
Corona del Mar 17, Beckman 15
SCORE BY QUARTERS
CdM 7 – 0 – 3 – 7 – 17
Beckman 0 – 0 – 3 – 12 – 15
CdM – English 10 pass from Gardner (Boehm kick), 8:38.
Beck. – Traut 27 FG (8:35).
CdM – Boehm 29 FG (3:21).
Beck. – Rivera 9 pass from Biedgoly (run failed), 9:02.
CdM – Fisher 5 run (Boehm kick), 2:16.
Beck. – Barring 51 pass from Biedgoly (pass failed), 0:53.
CdM – Fisher, 17-71, 1 TD.
Beck. – Kim: 29-101.
CdM – Gardner, 6-16-3, 97, 1 TD.
Beck. – Biedgoly, 9-24-2, 152, 1 TD.
CdM – English, 3-41, 1 TD.
Beck. – Rivera: 6-74.