Corona del Mar High's starting defense, which was lifted in the fourth quarter of the Sea Kings' 41-14 CIF Southern Section Southern Division semifinal football win at Laguna Beach on Friday, held the Breakers to no points.
Laguna Beach, which came in averaging 47.8 points per game, scored on a kickoff return and a late touchdown pass against the CdM second-team defense.
A big reason for that success was the play of a senior quartet of linebackers that has been leading the defense all season.
"They are a great group of 'backers," CdM Coach Scott Meyer said of the inside duo of David Moore and Grant Garrett, and the outside tandem of Aaron White and Frasier Anderson. "I'm not sure of another team that has four as good as those four."
White made three sacks to up his season total to 16. He shares the team lead in tackles (88) with Anderson, who returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown against the Breakers. Anderson has two interceptions, both of which he has returned for touchdowns this season.
Moore has 82 tackles, including 5.5 sacks, while Garrett has 79 tackles. As a quartet, they have 24 sacks.
The greatest season in Estancia High history ended Friday at home.
The fourth-seeded Eagles lost to top-seeded Beckman, 57-21, in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs.
Estancia, which began playing varsity football in 1965, recorded many firsts this year. The Eagles reached the semifinals for the first time, won back-to-back postseason games for the first time, and claimed back-to-back undefeated league titles for the first time.
"I'm proud of our kids," said Coach Mike Bargas, who led the Eagles to a 10-3 season, which was the second 10-win season in the program's history.
"We did a lot of good things this year."
The Eagles' playoff run this year started with their first postseason victory since 1980. Estancia's 42-7 opening-round win at home against Magnolia ended an 11-game losing streak in the playoffs.
Beckman stood in the way of Estancia making it to the section final at Orange Coast College. The Patriots return to the big game for the second straight year after defeating the Eagles for the fourth time in two years, twice eliminating Estancia from the playoffs.
CdM's offensive success was overwhelmingly on the ground Friday, as they amassed 448 of their 517 yards via the rush. Senior tailback Erik Fisher collected 298 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.
It marked the seventh time this season that the No. 2-seeded Sea Kings (11-2) have had more yards rushing than passing. On the season, the aerial attack, triggered by senior quarterback Brent Lawson, still has the edge in yardage, with 2,440. CdM has gained 2,394 yards on the ground heading into Friday's 7:30 p.m. championship game against Beckman at Orange Coast College.
CdM had 132 yards rushing and 121 passing in their first meeting against Pacific Coast League rival Beckman, a 42-37 loss on Nov. 11.
Friday marked only the second game all season that Lawson did not manage a touchdown pass.
There aren't many times you will see a running back with 146 yards on 15 carries at halftime and his team down, 36-13.
But the Eagles were in that situation against Beckman.
Estancia tailback Robert Murtha lost opportunities in the second quarter because of two offensive mistakes that resulted in two Beckman touchdowns.
The Eagles turned the ball over on downs on the Patriots' 24 with 7:53 left in the second quarter. On fourth-and-two, the Eagles handed the ball off to a defensive lineman, rather than Murtha, and they failed to get the first down.
Midway through the second quarter, Beckman intercepted a pass, setting up the Patriots on Estancia's 42.
Estancia also fumbled the ball to open the second half and Beckman took advantage, scoring another touchdown and converting a two-point conversion to go ahead, 44-13.
In its third CIF semifinal in four seasons, CdM played without senior cornerback-receiver-kick returner Cole Cottrell, who sat out with what Meyer said was a deep back bruise that had caused back spasms all week.
Cottrell has averaged 23 yards on 13 receptions this season, has 36 tackles, and has been a valuable weapon on special teams. He has averaged 35.7 yards on 11 kickoff returns, including touchdowns of 95 and 90 yards, and has amassed 414 yards on 28 punt returns, including touchdowns of 79 and 50 yards.
Meyer said Laguna Beach's wing-T offense, which features just one wide receiver, helped the Sea Kings withstand Cottrell's absence on defense.
The Sea Kings shifted senior Kyle Sherburne from safety to corner and brought sophomore Charlie Griffin into the lineup at safety. Meyer said junior corner Ryan Griffin lined up on the same side as Laguna's wideout, who did not catch a pass against the CdM's starting defense.
Estancia will return a lot of talent next year on offense and defense.
Murtha is the biggest name of the 11 starters planning to come back for their senior year.
Murtha rushed for 2,213 yards and 19 touchdowns this season to up his two-year career total to 3,864. He needs 470 yards to break the Newport-Mesa record of 4,333 set by Costa Mesa's Binh Tran in the early 1990s.
Murtha will have two of his linemen, center Alejandro Lopez and right guard Adahir Aguilera, blocking for him again.
Other starters include receivers Ben Beck, Levi Stillman and Henry Vasquez, quarterback Brad Wilson, fullback Deionte Haywood, and kicker Dan Cabrera.
On defense, linebacker Colby Koste, tackle Kevin Peters, Stillman at cornerback, Beck at safety and Haywood at linebacker all will be seniors next season.
The win was CdM's 13th in a row over Laguna Beach and gave the Sea Kings 18 wins in the last 19 meetings between the two coastal neighbors.
Despite the 13-game winning streak, in which CdM has outscored the Breakers, 463-134, Garrett said there was no sign of complacency against Laguna Beach.
"We were focused, trust me," Grant said after the game. "Nobody was looking ahead. We knew it was our last 48 [minutes] if we didn't play well, so that was our mentality."
The Sea Kings are now 7-2 in their last three trips to the CIF playoffs and are 24-22 in the school's postseason history. CdM has never lost a section title game.
A victory over Beckman on Friday would allow CdM to tie the school single-season victory record set by the 1988 team that went 12-0-2.
— From staff reports