El Toro may have breezed through Southwest Division competition last season, but the Chargers found out that life in the Pac-5 is a different animal.
The Chargers found themselves down by two touchdowns early before their explosive offense overcame San Clemente to score a 49-37 victory in the South Coast League opener for both schools.
For El Toro (7-0, 1-0), which is ranked No. 22 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, the game marked its return to the South Coast League.
The Chargers had been in the Sea View League, traditionally considered weaker than the South Coast, since 2005. But as part of the 10-team Coast View Conference, El Toro—a section finalist last season—was bumped to the South Coast League and Dana Hills was dropped to the Sea View League.
Maxpreps recently named the South Coast League as the fifth-toughest league in the nation.
What was obvious on Thursday at Trabuco Hills High, where El Toro plays its home games, is that San Clemente (4-3, 0-1) isn't the pushover that has dominated El Toro's schedule. And it's only going to get tougher. Mission Viejo and Tesoro are ranked sixth and seventh in the state.
San Clemente was coming off successive losses without the services of starting QB Sean Donnelly, who was back in the lineup for the first time in three weeks. He was sacked six times, five by Jeff Nelson.
Conner Manning, who had thrown only one interception though the first six games, was picked off twice by San Clemente defenders and both were returned for touchdowns.
Manning still passed for 349 yards and three touchdowns, but it was his lowest total of the season for a full game, and it was clearly the best defense El Toro has faced.
Manning got some help on offense as El Toro showed that it was well-rounded. Jacob Furnari rushed 36 times for 194 yards and six touchdowns.
The Chargers are going to need to be well-rounded with games against the rest of the schedule if they hope to finish in first- or second-place to get an automatic playoff berth.
Today's Pac-5 Games
South Coast League
Tesoro at Trabuco Hills, 7
Servite vs. Santa Margarita at Saddleback College, 7
JSerra vs. Mater Dei at Santa Ana Stadium, 7:30
St. John Bosco vs. Orange Lutheran at Orange Coast College, 7:30