It was almost as if all the magic had been drained out of Conner Manning’s right arm. The quarterback for El Toro has done nothing but be impressive on the football field. He throws touchdowns, and rarely throws interceptions.
But Friday night at Mission Viejo High, in the Orange County showdown of unbeatens, Manning’s second-ranked team ran into the defense of top-ranked Mission Viejo.
And everyone knows defense wins championships.
The Diablo defense intercepted six of Manning’s passes and allowed only one to reach the end zone has Garrett Marino and Max Redfield keyed a 49-7 South Coast League victory.
Mission (10-0 overall, 4-0 in league), ranked No. 2 in the Southern Section Pac-5 Division, will go into the playoffs next week as one of the favorites to win a title; the Diablos have lost in the semifinals the past three years.
Pairings will be released on Sunday.
The loss won’t keep second-place El Toro (9-1 overall, 3-1 in league) out of the Southern Section Pac-5 playoffs, however. Next week, in the first round, they’ll be undefeated again and Manning and his teammates will be looking for retribution. They’ll also be hoping running back Jacob Furnari will be back. Furnari suffered an arm injury with 4 minutes 48 seconds left in the first quarter and missed the rest of the game.
Mission Viejo put in a terrific team effort but an absolutely great defensive effort.
"We ran into a better team. Bottom line," said El Toro coach Robert Frith, who guided the program to the Southwest Division championship game last season. "Coach (Bob) Johnson got those guys ready to play. We had our chances early but couldn’t capitalize. Turnovers killed us. I’m very proud of the way our defense came out and continued to fight, but we just ran into a better team tonight.
"Obviously Conner had his struggles, but it’s a team game. We’ll go look at film. He needs to make some corrections but I think the supporting cast—we’ll have to look at them as well and see if guys were where they were supposed to be."
Manning, who has committed to Utah, came into the game having thrown 38 touchdowns and three interceptions. Frith couldn't recall a time when Manning threw more interceptions than touchdown passes.
Mission Viejo safety Hunter Remington had three interceptions. Zack Holland, Steven Macke and Sean Modster also had interceptions as the defense shut down an El Toro offense that had averaged 47.2 points. The defense also scored, putting the icing on its fourth consecutive league title when Remington returned an interception 31 yards for the final margin.
But Mission’s offense was no slouch either. The Diablos came in averaging 49.5 points, and were spot on their average.
Ian Fieber passed for three touchdowns, and three different runners scored: Marcus Collins from 28 yards, Alex Suchesk from 5 yards, and Marino from 22. It was the longest score of Marino’s high school career: He’s normally a defensive end.
Mission never trailed. After trading turnovers it scored midway in the first quarter on Fieber’s 19-yard strike to Modster, and Collins scored from 28 to make it 14-0 early in the second.
An interception by El Toro’s Bryan Chinchilla gave the Chargers possession at their 46, and six plays later Manning passed 3 yards to Dominic Collins. That was as close as they would get, 14-7.
Fieber escaped a sack and hit Redfield on a 48-yard deep ball for a 21-7 advantage, and El Toro got only one first down on its first three possessions of the second half. Redfield blocked a punt, and eventually Suchesk scored from 5 yards to make it 28-7 with 2:09 left in the third quarter.
El Toro’s next drive ended with an interception, and Mission converted, covering 30 yards in four plays—the last 22 on the TD run by the defensive end Marino.
Fieber passed 16 yards to Braxton Shirley to go up 42-7, and Remington’s interception for six points ended the Charger’s next drive.