When these two teams met three weeks ago, Tesoro saw its regular season come to an end with a 25-point loss to San Clemente, during which the Tritons scored 31 consecutive points.
On Friday, on a much bigger stage and with a trip to the CIF-Southern Section Pac-5 Division championship game at stake, the Tritons’ big-play offense and stingy defense obliterated yet another playoff opponent, this time ending Tesoro’s Cinderella postseason quickly and methodically.
In the Pac-5 semifinals before a crowd of about 2,500 at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, San Clemente took a 14-7 lead into the second quarter then scored 37 unanswered points to pummel the Titans, 51-16. The Tritons (12-1) have outscored their three playoff foes, 135-46, winning by an average of 33 points a game.
It will be the first championship appearance for San Clemente since 1979, when the Tritons lost to Esperanza, 14-7. Standing in the way of the Tritons and a possible CIF title is Santa Margarita (11-2), which defeated Mission Viejo, 21-20, in the other semifinal. Mission Viejo was the only team to defeat San Clemente this season.
The Pac-5 championship game between San Clemente and Santa Margarita will be played Saturday at Anaheim Stadium, with the kickoff scheduled for 7:30 pm.
Tritons coach Jon Hamro, who was a tight end on that 1979 team, said the feeling is the same now as it was 32 years ago.
“I am proud of the kids and the coaches and happy for their parents. They deserve it,” said Hamro, minutes after his first Gatorade shower. “I feel honored to be able to do it for our community. We have eight coaches who live in San Clemente, our players are from there, and the support we get has been just great.”
Tesoro (8-5), the third-place team behind Mission and San Clemente in the South Coast League, was the giant-slayer of the Pac-5 playoffs, which included four South County semifinalists. They nipped Sunset League champion Edison by two points then shocked top-seeded Servite by four to reach the semifinals and a rematch against the Tritons.
San Clemente wasted little time in getting its scoring machine into high gear. The Tritons scored on the second play of the game when quarterback Travis Wilson spotted Christian Tober on a quick out, and the speedy 5-foot-9 senior turned it into an 80-yard touchdown.
Nick Pasquale intercepted a pass by Titans quarterback Matt Adam on the next series on the Tritons' 20, and, eight plays later, Mike Elespuru scored from the one to give San Clemente a 14-0 lead.
Tesoro made its biggest play of the game on the ensuing kickoff when Syd Reynolds managed to avoid stepping on the goal line and went 99-plus yards for the touchdown. Suddenly, after 10 minutes, it looked as if the game was going to be an offensive shootout.
But just as suddenly, San Clemente scored three touchdowns and a safety. It began when Wilson again spotted Tober down the sidelines for a 73-yard pass-and-run touchdown. The Titans then downed the ball at their 39 when the punter went to his knee to save a bad snap, and, five plays later, Wilson scored from the three to extend the lead to 28-7.
The punting unit again cost Tesoro points when a bad snap was downed in the end zone for a safety. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Tober went up the middle for a 78-yard touchdown with 1:39 remaining before halftime, and the Tritons had blown open another game, 37-7.
The combination of Tober and Wilson proved too much for the Titans.
Tober made only two catches but scored three touchdowns and accounted for 253 yards of offense, including kick returns. He also intercepted a pass in the third quarter. And Wilson needed only seven passes to complete four for an efficient 218 yards.
“I think [Tober] is capable of anything. When he touches the football on a kick return, he has a chance to go to the house every time,” Hamro said. “[Wilson and Tober] grew up together. They’ve played together for a long time. We are a one high school town. They like each other and they’re buddies and they practice hard. It’s reflected on the field Friday nights.”
San Clemente scored twice more in the third quarter on a 58-yard pass play to Elespuru (15 carries, 137 yards) and a three-yard run by Pasquale. The Titans scored in the fourth quarter on a 14-yard pass from Adam (9 of 16, 144 yards, 2 interceptions) to Conor Massey. Junior Nate Tago carried 16 times for 94 yards.
Afterward, Tesoro coach Brian Barnes said that while he was disappointed with the loss, he was proud that his team went farther than most people expected.
“Nobody thought we would get to the semifinals. I couldn’t have been prouder of our kids,” Barnes said. “San Clemente is a tremendous, tremendous football team. I thought all season long they may be the best team in the county. We gave them the opportunities tonight, and good teams take advantage of that.”
The question now is can Santa Margarita somehow slow down San Clemente’s high-powered offense while the Tritons' defense continues to make big plays.
“We have got a lot of weapons,” Hamro said. “If you take away the run, we throw, we can move the pocket, and we can play downhill. So we’re playing on a high level on offense. [Offensive coordinator] Troy Kopp has been calling outstanding games. Our preparation has been excellent. Defensively, we are playing so fast, tackling so well.... Coach Jaime Ortiz has them going. It has been a collective effort.”