COSTA MESA — Corona del Mar High quarterback Mitch Gardner knew on Friday that he might not have one of his top targets in Clay Reinhardt.
The senior decided to spread the ball around and it worked in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs.
Gardner turned in his best performance of the year, throwing for 270 yards and three touchdowns, and rushing for a touchdown to lead second-seeded CdM to a 35-0 rout of Anaheim at Estancia High.
The Sea Kings (10-1-1) advanced to the semifinals for the second time in three years. The coach responsible for another CdM run this late in the season is Jason Hitchens.
When asked which team he would like to face next week, Loara or Pacific Coast League rival Beckman, Hitchens did not hesitate answering.
"Just from the sheer fact that I'd like to play somebody different, I'd rather play Loara," Hitchens said. "The goal is to get [to the championship game]. We want to get over this last little hurdle and get into that 14th game."
Hitchens must lead CdM past Beckman for a second time this season in order for CdM to make its first section final appearance in 21 years.
The Patriots defeated Loara, 59-42, setting up a Pacific Coast League semifinal showdown. The Sea Kings and the Patriots are two of three teams from the league reaching the semifinals. The other is Northwood, which plays top-seeded Garden Grove next.
Gardner is more than OK with a matchup against Beckman (7-5) for a shot at a title.
"We know that we can beat Beckman," Gardner said.
The Sea Kings got past the Patriots, 17-15, in the league finale, allowing CdM to claim its first outright league title since 1988. The game was not one of Gardner's best, as he finished below 100 yards passing and he was picked off three times.
Gardner did not turn the ball over against Anaheim (7-5). The Sea Kings are in for a battle next week, much more than they were against a second-place team from the Orange League.
Gardner got CdM off to a rousing start, even though he did not have Reinhardt on the field in the first half because Hitchens said he decided to hold the senior out because he suffered a concussion last week.
Gardner completed his first five passes during a 72-yard scoring drive. Brent Gray, Brent Lawson and Josh Giger caught passes. Giger hauled in the biggest one, an 18-yard touchdown strike over the middle.
The middle of the field was open all night and Gardner took advantage of Anaheim's Cover 2 defense. He connected with five receivers throughout, Giger finished with the most receptions (five) and yards (72).
Gardner's longest touchdown was a 46-yard pass to Fisher late in the third quarter. Gardner hit Fisher in stride near the opponent's 25-yard line and the junior raced into the end zone, giving CdM a 28-0 lead.
When Hitchens decided to play Reinhardt in the second half, Gardner made sure the two hooked up. Gardner found Reinhardt wide open for a nine-yard touchdown pass in the fourth.
"We felt really confident," said Gardner, who completed 18 of 26 passes.
Handling the ball became an issue for the Colonists. They fumbled a handful of times. The punter mishandled the snap twice and the quarterback lost the ball.
The mishaps gave CdM great field position to work with each time. The offense took advantage of one of the turnovers midway through the second quarter.
After Fisher gave CdM a 14-0 lead with an 11-yard run, CdM's defense gave the offense the ball right back. Anaheim quarterback Anthony Covarrubias played a roll.
The left-handed junior rolled to his right, but he lost the ball. Jon Metcalfe was there to pounce on the ball on Anaheim's 25-yard line for CdM.
Corona del Mar 35, Anaheim 0
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Anaheim 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 — 0
CdM 7 – 14 – 14 – 0 — 35
CdM – Giger 18 pass from Gardner (Boehm kick), 8:36.
CdM – Fisher 11 run (Boehm kick), 7:28.
CdM – Gardner 1 run (Boehm kick), 5:24.
CdM – Fisher 46 pass from Gardner (Boehm kick), 4:57.
CdM – Reinhardt 9 pass from Gardner (Boehm kick), 3:06.
A – Rosales, 10-31.
CdM – Fisher, 19-74, 1 TD.
A – Covarrubias, 1-8-0, 5.
CdM – Gardner, 17-26-0, 270, 3 TDs.
A – Edwin, 1-11.
CdM – Giger, 5-72, 1 TD.