Mission Viejo captures its second CIF state title with a 27-14 win over De La Salle in the D1-AA championship. It also shows the relative strength of the elite teams in the CIF Southern Section over the rest of the state. The SoCal teams also remained unbeaten at Saddleback College earlier in the night with La Serna of Whittier’s two-point win over Grant of Sacramento. We also have all winners with highlights/notes from all games at El Camino College & Pasadena City College.
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(Thanks to Orange County correspondent Chuck Nan for the writeup on La Serna-Grant and to Northern California correspondent Daniel Poulter for the recaps on three of the games not played at Saddleback.)
It was a spirited series of four games between the highly regarded programs at Mission Viejo and De La Salle of Concord between 2004 and 2007. The 2-2 record between them was fun to re-live in recent days, but Mission Viejo showed on Friday night at Saddleback College in the CIF D1-AA state championship that it was more of the team of the future as its underclass quarterbacks — sophomore Luke Fahey and junior Draiden Trudeau — were the difference in a 27-14 triumph.
Mission Viejo won just its second CIF state title. The first came in 2015 in D1AA with a win against Bellarmine of San Jose. That was during the final years of former head coach Bob Johnson being in charge of the program when current head coach Chad Johnson was still offensive coordinator at St. John Bosco. Since then, it’s not as if the Diablos were not that good, but not going to a state final was more because of the team playing in the same CIF Southern Section D1 bracket as super powers Mater Dei and St. John Bosco.
“I’m just so happy,” Johnson said. “(Bob Johnson) did a great job here and left it at a high level. We’re back where we belong.”
De La Salle was looking to win its eighth CIF state title, but instead suffered its sixth straight loss in a state final. Counting this year and last year’s loss in the same game to Lincoln of San Diego, the team now has a 7-9 record in its all-time best 16 appearances.
The Spartans got out a great start with a touchdown run of 55 yards on its fifth play by junior QB Toa Fa’avae. He’s the same QB who had a state title game record 88-yard TD run last season in the loss to Lincoln.
The Diablos were stopped on their first series, but did a lot better on their second one after a fourth down incomplete pass by De La Salle. That drive ended on a 11-yard TD pass from Fahey to junior Phillip Bell, an all-state sophomore receiver last season at Christian Brothers of Sacramento.
The end of the second quarter just before halftime created a 10-7 lead for the Diablos. They were pushed back to their own 3-yard line with only a few minutes before the break, but used three big chunk plays — a 14-yard run by Hinesward Lilomaiava, a 32-yard pass from Fahey to Bell and a 47-yard scramble run by Fahey — to get to the 5-yard line. The DLS defense then forced three incomplete passes before Michael Salgado came on with 29 seconds left to kick a 22-yard field goal. With just 24 seconds left, the Spartans didn’t take a knee but instead roared down the field on two plays, including a 49-yard pass from Fa’avae to Jayden Nicholas. They did not get a field goal, however, as a 28-yard attempt by Finn Sepic was wide left.
Mission Viejo took its first series of the third quarter — the Diablos deferred after winning the opening coin toss — and went down the field 45 yards in eight plays that was set up by a 53-yard kickoff return by Trevon Tolmaire. Trudeau quarterbacked that drive, which was highlighted by a 32-yard pass to sophomore Vince Spafford. He threw a fourth down and goal touchdown pass from the 3-yard line to Bell.
Tolmaire then came up with an interception to stop the Spartans and then there was another score still in the third quarter by Mission Viejo on a 8-yard TD pass from Fahey to Spafford. De La Salle kept fighting in the fourth quarter and scored on a 1-yard run by Derrick Blanche that cut the score to 24-14, but Mission answered with a 12-play drive the killed the clock to just 3:31 left that ended on a second field goal on the night for Salgado.
“The biggest thing we wanted to do was stack the box,” Johnson said of holding the Spartans to just 49 yards rushing by its running backs. “We definitely didn’t want them to go three yards and three yards down the field. Eventually, we wanted to make them pass and we did and ended up with two interceptions.”
That other interception came with just over two minutes left in the game by Travis Anderson, a senior who had 16 interceptions in the last two seasons.
Offensively, the Diablos had 20 carries for 95 yards by Lilomaiva and 83 yards rushing on five carries for Fahey. As a passer, Fahey also went 10 of 17 for 99 yards and two TDs. Trudeau finished 8 of 10 for 76 yards.
Johnson also was asked how his team responded being in D2 in the CIFSS playoffs instead of D1.
“We didn’t feel like this is the NIT,” he said. “This is a division when we saw it that we should do our best to win. And then here at the end we get De La Salle. The greatest program in history.”
Fa’avae had a great night rushing the ball. Boosted from the early 55-yard TD, he ended with 17 carries for 168 yards. He also had 106 yards passing, but the Spartans still struggled in the passing game against an elite team like the Diablos.
“They’re a really good team, but we have to fight better,” said DLS head coach Justin Alumbaugh. “The defense wasn’t playing with the fire and confidence it was the last few weeks. And offensively, we left way too many points out there.”
In the other game played at Saddleback College:
La Serna (Whittier) 21, Grant (Sacramento) 19
Heading into the CIF 2-AA football championship at Saddleback College, there was no doubt that the quarterback/safety for No. 37 La Serna (Whittier), C.J. Ceron would be a key factor in the outcome. The Lancers had the tall task of trying to oust state No. 20 Grant Union (Sacramento), the 3-AA state champion from last season.
In the end, Ceron’s impact in the victory for his school was the result of engineering three scoring drives, including two in the first half, as the Lancers took a 14-13 advantage into the locker room and never looked back.
It is La Serna’s first-ever state title and the first for head coach Andy George, who looked up to the sky and had some emotional moments as he was celebrating. If anyone doesn’t know, he lost a sister, Payton Chester, and a neice, Sarah Chester, in the tragic helicopter crash in January of 2020 that also claimed the life of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and others.
“We were just getting better and better every week,” George told a group of reporters. “The stars aligned for us. We never once thought about state, but once we won the CIF (SS) title we did everything we could to win it.”
A safety on the La Serna defense, Ceron made a tackle on the second to last play of the first half that surely impacted the direction of the game, especially for the Pacers. As it was looking to take the lead, Grant’s talented quarterback, junior Luke Alexander, scrambled downfield to the left flat and was met by Ceron who delivered a thunderous hit, jolting the signal-caller. Alexander was down for a protracted period but left the field under his own power. Grant was unable to score on the final play, now being led by freshman Sherin Crump, Jr.
The Pacers received the opening kickoff and took advantage of solid field position to begin and drove 57 yards in just two minutes to take a 7-0 lead. The score was aided by one personal foul and a pass interference penalty. Alexander found freshman Koby Shabazz in the end zone with a four-yard pass and the lead.
The Lancers assumed good field position themselves as they executed a fake reverse on the ensuing kickoff. Midway through the drive, they succeeded in converting a fourth and three with the old “Wing T” formation. Kaimana Tufanga took the handoof for a 22-yard touchdown. The Lancers routinely run a modified version of the old time offense a majority of the time. The PAT was unsuccessful, however, and Grant still led, 7-6
The Pacers, blessed with two gifted running backs, came out and delivered a heavy dose of Wayshawn Parker. Although the Pacers were trying to establish their passing attack as well, Alexander was unable to find any type of rhythm with his receivers. Into the second quarter, the other pillar of the two-headed attack, Devin Green made his first appearance to complement the attack. The respite helped preserve Parker’s energy as he resumed his duties and scored on a 7-yard run to the left corner of the end zone and Grant was up again.
The Pacers’ drive was an amazing 18 plays covering 70 yards and axed 7:39 off the clock. The grinding drive was kept alive with two successful fourth-down conversions, both six-yards in length and one pass interference call. A high snap and delayed kick, however, allowed La Serna block the conversion. Early in the second quarter, Grant led 13-6 in a contest that most thought would be high scoring.
La Serna took its first lead in the second quarter on a 13-yard run by Ceron. That was followed by the decision to go for two points on the conversion and it successed on a pass from Ceron to Lazlo Haas.
The third quarter saw both clubs trade possessions with neither able to gain traction. Late in the quarter, Grant proceeded to its own 44-yard line but were three yards short of a first down. The Pacers elected to go for it on fourth down but the attempted pass was incomplete and the Lancers took over on downs.
As the fourth quarter commenced, La Serna was approaching the red zone and had ideas of putting the game out of reach. Ceron did his part as he threw his only scoring pass of the game — an amazing catch secured by Owen Long on a double bobble in the left corner of the end zone. The PAT made the score 21-13 with nearly a full quarter to play.
The two schools traded possessions again without success, but Grant wasn’t done as it earned good field position once again, needing to score. Still married to the run, though, the Pacers ran 10 rushing plays in succession to go 92 yards and reach the end zone with 2:17 remaining. Green romped six yards to the left to make the score 21-19.
Without much option, Grant head coach Carl Reed had to attempt a 2-point conversion that would have tied the score and perhaps set up overtime. After apparent confusion resulting in a timeout, the Pacers elected to give the ball to Green who was stonewalled at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
An onside kick attempt also was unsuccessful and La Serena took over and ran out the clock to claim the win.
“I love evertyhing about these kids,” Reed said. “They had to rally around a freshman and we came just a few inches short. That’s who we’ve been all year.”
Unable to develop any momentum with the pass and a backup quarterback for half the game, Grant kept to the ground and out gained the Lancers by 100 yards overall (287-187), with 214 on via the rush. Parker finished with 145 yards and one score. Green contributed 78 and one touchdown. Alexander and Crump combined for just 73 yards passing. Shabazz led all receivers with three receptions. Jeziah Lopa led the defense with eight tackles.
For La Serna, it was success by committee as four rushers churned out 113 yards and two scores. Ceron was 6-of-12 passing for 74 yards. The Lancers’ defense really came up big with Long (14), Adrian Castro (12) and Eli Perez (12) combing for 36 tackles (3 for loss). Grant has been known for breakaway runs by its backs in recent weeks, but Parker didn’t break one for longer than 16 yards. Green had one 45-yard run but didn’t score only had 33 yards on his other carries.
In games played Friday at Pasadena City College:
Soquel 28, Jurupa Hills (Fontana) 7
Before Friday afternoon, no team from Santa Cruz County had won a CIF state football title, but that changed when 13-2 Soquel pulled off a victory over 9-7 Jurupa Hills (Fontana) in the Division 4-AA title game at Pasadena City College.
Soquel took the lead on a Cruz Ferris rush from three-yards out with 3:18 remaining in the first quarter and the Knights would never trail in the 4-AA title game. The lead continued to grow for the Northern California side, as Braylon Noble pulled in a 13-yard reception for a touchdown in the second quarter to increase the lead to 14. Jordan McCord kept the momentum rolling for the Knights, as the wide receiver made a diving catch and was able to tap his foot to secure the touchdown and a three-score lead at halftime. Jurupa Hills attempted an onside kick to start the second half, but the trickery would be swallowed up by the Soquel return team. The Knights then went back to McCord, as quarterback Sam Whelan hit his favorite target on a 57-yard touchdown to open the first drive of the third quarter.
Soquel will now see if fellow Central Coast Section teams Palma (Salinas), Los Gatos and Serra (San Mateo) will join them as state champions on Saturday. Soquel head coach Dwight Lowery is a former San Jose State and NFL standout who certainly has put the program on the map.
St. Vincent de Paul (Petaluma) 27, Wasco 6
The Mustangs captured their first-ever CIF state title in a game in which they only led 7-6 at halftime. Head coach Trent Herzog’s squad also capped a 13-2 season and became the first school from Sonoma County to capture a state crown.
On the team’s first series of the second half, St. Vincent de Paul went on a scoring drive to take the lead. The touchdown came on a 20-yard pass from Gabe Casanovas to Mason Caturegli. Later in the quarter, Wasco then went for a fourth down on its own 39-yard line that came up inches short. That led to another score by the Mustangs on a 4-yard spurt by Jack Davis. They wrapped up the win with 2:21 left on a 10-yard run by Casanovas.
The Tigers (who hail from the CIF Central Section) scored their only touchdown in the second quarter on a 2-yard run by Jude Granados. The PAT was blocked, however, so the Mustangs still led 7-6. Wasco ended 9-7 overall.
In games played Friday at El Camino College:
Ramona (Riverside) 35, Pleasant Valley (Chico) 7
While in years past there has been a pattern of the Southern California schools winning the top five large CIF state titles, it has been usually Northern California winning the smaller matchups. 11-5 Ramona (11-5) had other plans on Friday evening, as the Inland Empire school cruised to a victory over the Northern Section’s Pleasant Valley of Chico (10-4) in the Division 5-AA title game at El Camino College.
This is the first CIF state football title winner from Riverside and only the fifth team from the Inland Empire to claim championship gold. Pleasant Valley was seeking its third state title in school history, but was never able to control the Ramona offense.
Royce Mendoza proved to be a difference maker this postseason for the Rams, as the senior snagged his 10th interception and mind boggling eighth just during the playoffs. At the halftime break, Ramona had accrued 322 total yards of offense and 21 points, to Pleasant Valley’s just 52 overall yards. The Rams pushed across two more scores in the third quarter, with the highlight score between the two being a 76-yard pick-six for Peter Mesa and a running clock was issued to start the fourth quarter.
Ferndale 29, Fairfax (Los Angeles) 21
Tiny Ferndale of Humboldt County, a school of just 137 students, a small rural town best known for the movie Outbreak and being the childhood stomping grounds of Guy Fieri, etched itself in Humboldt County sports lore on Friday afternoon, as the 11-4 Wildcats scored 29 unanswered points to stun 10-5 Fairfax (Los Angeles) 29-21 in the Division 7-AA title game at El Camino College.
This is the first state football title for Ferndale, as the Wildcats follow in the footsteps of former league rivals and fellow Humboldt County team St. Bernard’s (Eureka), who last won a state title back in 2019. Ferndale traveled 645 miles, the furthest of any CIF state title challenger and early it appeared that the trip had zapped the Wildcats.
Fairfax, which is the alma mater of actor Dustin Hoffman (the star of the movie filmed in Ferndale), jumped on Ferndale early, as the Lions raced out to a 21-0 advantage before the halftime break on a Ivan Levant 75-yard touchdown pass to Sebastian Ikolo. Levant was 9-for-10 for 264 yards before the break and had the Fairfax offensive machine in full force.
The game started to switch when Ferndale blocked a punt and claimed a safety on the Fairfax punter. Then right before the halftime break Tanner Pidgeon scored on a nine-yard keeper to pull the score to 21-8. It didn’t take long into the second half for Pidgeon to find the end zone once again, as the sophomore quarterback found a hole and went 40 yards for the score to pull within 6 points. Still in the third quarter, the Wildcats tok the lead for the final time, as Prescott Langer scored to put Ferndale up 22-21. A Pidgeon 1-yard plunge with six minutes remaining would be the final score of the contest.
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