Garden Grove quarterback Angel Martinez said earlier this week that his team was unlike anything Corona del Mar had seen this season.
Turns out, he was wrong.
Corona del Mar, trying to win its second consecutive Southern Section championship, easily defeated third-seeded Garden Grove, 35-10, to win the Southern Division title Saturday at Angel Stadium.
Corona del Mar (12-2) got off to a great start, and only got better. On the game's first play from scrimmage, Alexander Moore intercepted a Martinez pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown just 12 seconds into the game.
How's that for a rebuttal?
"It was huge," second-year coach Scott Meyer said. "To start a game like that with a defensive touchdown, it was awesome."
By the time halftime rolled around, Corona del Mar held a 20-point lead and, with a defense that hadn't allowed a point in its three playoff games, Moore, Tim Reinhardt and the rest weren't about to let it slip away.
Reinhardt had three tackles for losses, including one of two sacks of Martinez. The defense had three interceptions, by Moore, Brett Greenlee and Barrett Barbado.
Behind an offense led by quarterback Cayman Carter, the Sea Kings improved to a perfect four-for-four in championship games. They won a 14-13 thriller last year against Beckman, and also won titles in 1988 and '89.
The victory is CdM's 10th in a row, but with three on-field losses—notably 21-12 to Laguna Hills in the season opener (later a forfeit victory) and 24-7 to Capistrano Valley—a spot in the state playoffs for a Division 3 Bowl Championship berth may be tough to secure when state commissioners meet on Sunday. Still, they should be in the discussion.
Garden Grove (11-3) was in the finals for the third time in four years. The Argonauts won in 2010. Prior to 2009, their previous appearance in the finals was a loss to Downey in 1945.
Regardless of what happens onward, Corona del Mar showed it was the class of the Southern Division. Not only did Maxwell return an interception for a score and have a team-high eight tackles, but the defense and special teams combined for two safeties: on a punt, the ball was snapped out the back of the end zone for a 16-3 lead; after a mishandled pitch to the running back, Charlie Griffin threw Sionne Masoe out of bounds in the end zone for a 25-3 advantage in the third quarter.
The defense also made a stand inside the 10-yard line, and forced Grove to kick a 24-yard field goal by Gabe Carillo with 6:18 left in the first half. Those were the first points allowed by CdM in the playoffs.
The defense also stopped a drive at the 11-yard line on fourth down when Grove needed to cut into a 25-3 deficit with six minutes left in the third quarter.
Meyer praised "the whole secondary" for its effort, which limited Grove to 82 yards rushing and 173 passing—109 of which came in the fourth quarter.
Carter rushed for a game-high 68 yards and two touchdows, and passed for 203 and one touchdown to pace the offense. He completed 16 of 27 passes, including seven to Cole Martin and four to Chris Johnstone for 103 yards.
Carter had a hand in both first-half touchdowns. Not only did he throw the fade to Reese, who made a terrific catch against two defenders, but but he scored on a 1-yard run to give his team a 14-0 lead.
Carter also scored on the first play of the fourth quarter, a 1-yard run to go up 32-3.
Grif Amies of Corona del Mar tied the state record for field goals in a season when he kicked his 22nd, a 43-yarder with 8:45 left in the game for a 35-3 lead. It might have broken the state record because Amies had a chance to tie with a 25-yarder in the first half; he made the kick, but a penalty instead gave CdM a first down, and it scored on Carter's 6-yard pass to Troy Reese for a 23-3 lead with three seconds remaining in the first half.
The record is held by Chris Sailer of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. Amies had a chance to break the record with a 57-yard attempt with 3:28 remaining, but he was short. His longest of the season was 52 yards.
It was only then that the defense gave up its first touchdown of the playoffs. Martinez passed 9 yards to Josh Huff with 6:53 left in the game.
The game took a somber turn with 4:55 remaining when Garden Grove's Josh Vasquez was taken from the field on a stretcher and transported to UCI Medical Center.
Coach Willy Puga said that Vasquez heard a crack in his neck, and though he could move all his extremities, his grip was not what medics desired.