•Heading into the crucial, final two weeks of the Orange Coast League season, Costa Mesa High Coach Wally Grant saw something in his defense that had been building since injuries took their toll on the Mustangs earlier in the season.
With the return of several key starters to the fold, the Costa Mesa defense played a key role in recent games against Calvary Chapel and Laguna Beach.
Those two game performances, both important victories, helped the Mustangs close out a 5-0 league season that ended with a league championship.
"As we got down to those last two weeks, we were a little bit bigger, a little bit faster, and a little bit stronger," Grant said. "Injuries early on took us out of sync but with our players now healthy, our defense has really taken shape.
"From Week 4 on, we really have played some pretty good football. Our offense has been scoring some points in league but I really feel our defense has done a great job."
•In Friday's 56-30 title-clinching win at Laguna Beach, last year's OCL champion, the Mustangs bolted to a 28-0 lead with less than three minutes gone in the second quarter. During that scoring run, the defense came up big.
Leading 7-0, Costa Mesa got the ball back on a strip by outside linebacker Quinton Bell that led to a fumble recovery by defensive end Edgar Molina. The play set up the offense, which scored two plays later to increase the lead to 14-0 with 4:33 left in the opening quarter.
After taking a two-touchdown lead, the Mustangs defense held a potent and high-scoring Laguna offense — the Breakers came into the game averaging nearly 38 points (37.7) per game, to a pair of three-and-out series on consecutive possessions late in the quarter.
During those two series, Laguna managed only 15 yards of offense.
The Breakers scored their final two touchdowns, and added two-point conversions after both scores, in the final 10:39 of the game to make the final 56-30.
The game went to a running clock in the fourth quarter.
"Both Calvary and Laguna have explosive offenses, and our goal Friday, was to make them take eight or nine plays to score," Grant said. "I thought we did a good job, in that regard. Our guys came in ready to play at Laguna who, on their part, competed hard and I know they didn't have their full compliment of weapons for the game. That's how we were earlier in the season.
"I'm pleased with the turnaround we've had in the last year. [The Breakers] were in the same boat this year, as we were last year. In last year's game, we needed a win to have an outside shot at a playoff berth. They won that game, 35-28, and finished with a 5-0 record and won the league championship. On Friday, Laguna had a shot at the playoffs with a win, and we could win the league title with an undefeated record with a win. I'm proud of what we have done."
•The CIF Southern Section Southern Division rankings were released Sunday and Costa Mesa drew a familiar foe: Katella.
Katella and Costa Mesa met in the third week of the regular season, and the Knights posted a 21-16 victory at Jim Scott Stadium.
The Mustangs will play host to the rematch Friday at 7 p.m. at Jim Scott Stadium.
"I like our chances ," Coach Wally Grant said of the draw. "It's a tough draw. We've already played them, and they beat us the first time around. I believe we beat them two years ago, but I think we've only beaten them one time in the last eight years.
"Katella is a much-improved team since we played them in Week 3, and we are, too."
The Mustangs went into that Sept. 14 nonleague game without several key players available including tailback Oronde Crenshaw (high ankle sprain), wide receiver/outside linebacker/safety Quinton Bell (hip flexor), and defensive end/tight end Corbin Pritchard (MCL strain).
"We weren't at full-strength for that first meeting, and Katella also has had a few injury issues once they hit league play," Grant said. "We're healthy now, and that's a good thing."
The Knights are 7-3 overall and went 3-2 and finished in third place in the Orange League.
"If their running back [TJ Ashmeade] had not gotten hurt when they started league, they might have been league champs," Grant said of the Knights. "His injury really cost them."
Ashmeade is back and a force in the Katella lineup. Last week, he rushed for 250 yards and a touchdown in a 21-12 win over Anaheim.
Costa Mesa (7-3) brings a six-game winning streak into Friday's meeting, while Katella won its final two games to close out the regular season. The Mustangs produced a big turnaround down the regular-season stretch by winning their final six games. The Knights started the season with a 4-1 record, which included the win against Costa Mesa.
— Mike Sciacca
CORONA DEL MAR
•The Corona del Mar High football team finished off its first 10-0 regular season Friday night with a 35-21 victory over Northwood on senior night.
There are plenty of seniors who contribute, but it is the junior class that shows that the Sea Kings, who initiate defense of their back-to-back CIF Southern Section Southern Division titles Friday night against Loara, aren't going anywhere next year.
Ten juniors start on the defense, which has allowed just 9.4 points per game this season. That has been true since senior middle linebacker Alex Moore tore his ACL in a 43-14 win over Capistrano Valley on Sept. 27. The only senior starter on defense since then has been senior safety Charlie Griffin.
"I remember at the beginning of the season, someone kind of pointed out, you and Alex are the only seniors," Griffin said. "I was like, 'Whoa.' It doesn't feel like that, because everyone steps up. It doesn't feel like there's a grade-level difference. Everybody's been stepping up on our defense, and they're all great leaders out there."
Said Coach Scott Meyer: "Typically, you can see a good mix of underclassmen, but to have 10 [starting] that's probably pretty rare. Especially for them to be playing as well as they are."
•The 10-0 record wasn't the only record that Meyer's Sea Kings could feel proud of after Friday night. Another number CdM fans could throw out there was 30-0.
The entire program went undefeated this year for CdM, as the freshman and junior varsity teams also finished 10-0 following Thursday's wins over Northwood.
"It's a great accomplishment for the program as a whole," Meyer said.
•CdM super sophomore Anthony Battista has formed quite a tandem with junior Cole Martin this season at running back. Battista had one of his best games of the season against Northwood, finishing with two touchdowns for the second time.
Battista's 89 yards rushing also was his second-best tally of the season, behind only his 146-yard, two-touchdown performance against Capo Valley, which came when Martin was out with a sprained ankle.
— Matt Szabo
•Newport Harbor High's Sunset League title hopes ended last week.
Twenty-four hours is all Coach Jeff Brinkley said he would give his Sailors to recoup after they got upset at Huntington Beach, 40-14, eliminating them from finishing as co-league champions with Edison.
"They were picked to be second place in the league at the beginning of the year," Brinkley said of the Oilers. "We knew they were a good football team. We just didn't play as hard as they did."
Newport Harbor (5-5, 3-2 in league) finished one game back of 4-1 Edison in league. The Sailors shared second place with Los Alamitos and Fountain Valley, but they earned the league's No. 2 entry into the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division playoffs because they owned the head-to-head edge against both schools.
Newport Harbor now turns the page to the first round of the playoffs. The Sailors open at Dana Hills on Friday at 7 p.m.
Last year, the Sailors reached the quarterfinals, where they lost on the road to third-seeded Villa Park, 26-21.
•Even after Huntington Beach stunned Newport Harbor, Brinkley said the fifth-place Oilers stood no chance of getting into the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division playoffs as an at-large team.
The Oilers in fact did make it. They received one of the Southwest Division's two at-large entries on Saturday, when the section released its at-large teams.
Five teams from the six-team Sunset League qualified for postseason. Edison (7-3, 4-1), Newport Harbor (5-5, 3-2) and Fountain Valley (7-3, 3-2), in that order, earned the league's three automatic berths, while Los Alamitos (8-2, 3-2) and Huntington Beach (5-5, 2-3) got in as at-large teams.
The only team from the league that did not qualify was Marina (1-9, 0-5).
•Brinkley has led the Sailors to the playoffs for the 22nd time in his 28 years at the helm.
With Newport Harbor, he is 15-6 in playoff openers.
•Newport Harbor is the lone Newport-Mesa school to have turned in a perfect football season, going 14-0 during its CIF Southern Section Division V championship season in 1994.
But Back Bay rival Corona del Mar just wrapped up an undefeated regular season at 10-0. If the Sea Kings can claim their third straight CIF Southern Section Southern Division title, they will be 14-0.
And CdM's season wouldn't be over, because it most likely would play in the CIF State Southern California Regional Division III Bowl Game, the play-in game for the CIF State Division III Bowl Game. The Sea Kings are ranked No. 1 in the CalHiSports.com CIF State Bowl Game Division III South rankings.
The Sea Kings can easily finish 16-0 with section, regional and state crowns, easily topping Newport Harbor's perfect season from 19 years ago.
— David Carrillo Peñaloza