MISSION VIEJO, CA- Two undefeated Southern California juggernauts squared off in a highly anticipated South Coast league showdown. Mission Viejo dominated San Clemente 49-21, held Triton star running back Austin Whitsett to just 66 yards and snatched their ninth straight league title, yet those weren’t the biggest highlights of the night.
Legendary Mission Viejo head coach Bob Johnson coached his final regular season game, an illustrious 35-year career featuring 16 league titles. Hundreds of friends, family and former Diablos gathered before kick for a pre-game ceremony, where Johnson received a replica Mission Viejo jersey.
“His whole career has been storied and everybody’s always written about what a great coach he is, and what a great man he is,” former Mission Viejo standout, USC Rose Bowl champion and current Chicago Bears QB Mark Sanchez said.
With the impressive victory, Mission Viejo secured a 10-0 record and first round CIF home playoff game next weekend. Junior stud running back Akili Arnold dashed for 178 yards and two touchdowns, while senior wideout Austin Osborne added another two scores for Mission Viejo. “This game was all for Bob, it’s such a blessing to play for him,” Arnold said.
Senior cornerback, receiver, and UCLA commit Olaijah Griffin took a frightening slide across the turf in the first half, losing a tattoo in the process. “It burns, it burns really bad,” he said.
Despite a tough offensive performance for San Clemente and individual showing for Whitsett, the Tritons know they’ll grow from the experience. “Mission Viejo is the best team we’ve played all season, and heading into playoffs, hopefully this wakes us up a little bit,” he said.
Junior QB Brendan Costello scampered for an 80-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, giving San Clemente a bit of offensive momentum heading into the CIF playoffs.
Just over three minutes remained in the first quarter, and Griffin broke off for a 56-yard touchdown catch and run, giving Mission Viejo an early 7-0 lead. San Clemente responded by coughing up the rock on their next possession, and a Reece Hite recovery gave the Diablos great field position at the Triton 31-yard line.
Four plays later, Arnold rushed into the endzone for a six-yard score, putting Mission Viejo up 14-0 with 2:33 left in the quarter. Costello struggled to gain any rhythm for San Clemente, and on a 3rd & 10 moments after falling behind two scores, threw an interception to middle linebacker Christian Lavalle. Lavalle returned it to the two-yard line, and Arnold capitalized on the turnover one play later with his second first half touchdown run of the night.
Down 21-0 before the second quarter even began, San Clemente was in dire need of a spark. The Tritons faced a crucial 4th & 1 on the 44-yard line, and Whitsett delivered big time. He sprinted all the way down to the Diablo 5-yard line and finished off the drive two plays later with a one-yard score, cutting the deficit to 21-7.
San Clemente’s defense responded by forcing a quick three-and-out, gifting the ball back to the offense. On a possession that started on the 51-yard line, San Clemente drove down to the 1 and scored off an unusual offensive tackle scoop up, as six-foot-seven 250 pound senior Thomas Wade got on the board, making it 21-14 with 1:06 left in the first half.
The Diablos quickly put together a 59-second touchdown drive, set up by a 26-yard Arnold run to the San Clemente 23-yard line. The next snap, with 33 seconds remaining, Osborne caught his first touchdown of the night, giving Mission Viejo loads of halftime momentum and 28-14 advantage.
After trading possessions to start the third quarter, Mission Viejo scored on a 25-yard Osborne end around run, increasing the Diablos’ lead to 35-14 with 5:32 left. In the fourth quarter, senior fullback Shaun Javier-Rhodes and Christian Lavalle, this time on the offensive end, both scored to give Mission Viejo 49 points for the night.
After the victory, when asked if he was ready for the playoffs, Coach Bob Johnson’s face lit up, as he said, “Oh yeah, always!”