IRVINE — As the reigning two-time champion of the CIF Southern Section Southern Division on the crest of a 16-game winning streak, the Corona del Mar High football team knows full well it will receive the best shot from any opponent, let alone a Pacific Coast League rival.
But host Woodbridge nearly delivered a sucker punch to the Sea Kings on Friday, before CdM finally closed out a 14-7 triumph at University High.
The Sea Kings (7-0, 2-0 in league), ranked No. 1 in the Southern Division and atop the Division III rankings for the State Bowl Game, dominated through three-plus quarters. They withstood costly mistakes and a pair of turnovers to hold a seemingly comfortable 14-0 cushion.
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But after an offensive face-masking penalty nullified a would-be 16-yard touchdown run by Cole Martin and the Sea Kings turned the ball over on downs at the Woodbridge 13-yard line four plays later, a Woodbridge offense that had struggled all night, finally found its groove.
The Warriors, who had no first downs in the second and third quarters and had 67 offensive yards through the first 38-plus minutes, drove 87 yards on 19 plays, including one that included two changes of possession, to pull within 14-7 with 1:56 remaining.
But CdM junior linebacker Hoyt Crance, who intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble, collected the ensuing onside kickoff and CdM's offense ran out the clock to extend the winning streak to 17.
CdM's defense which stymied the Warriors (4-3, 1-1) on all but their final possession, appeared to halt that last Woodbridge drive when junior cornerback Brett Greenlee stepped in front of a Ryan Goodman pass for his second interception of the night at his own 12-yard line with just fewer than five minutes left.
But the Warriors forced a fumble on the return and recovered to maintain possession with a fresh set of downs at the 16.
After converting on third-and-nine with a 13-yard completion to the two, the Warriors converted a fourth-and-goal predicament when Goodman hit Zach Kennedy with a three-yard touchdown pass to halve the deficit.
But the CdM ground game, led by Martin who finished with 180 yards on 29 carries, pounded out two more first downs, exhausting the Warriors' final three timeouts and their upset aspirations.
"They are a really good team and my hats off to them," CdM Coach Scott Meyer said. "We ran the ball pretty well, but couldn't get it in once we got in the red zone. We had some penalties and bad mistakes [two lost fumbles on offense, three overall], but [the Warriors] got after us."
In addition to Martin, sophomore Anthony Battista piled up 58 rushing yards on 10 attempts, including a 22-yard scoring jaunt that capped a seven-play, 56-yard drive that relied exclusively on the run.
The offensive line of tackles Ian Redman and Jack Pagliossotti, guards Michael Pierotti and Brett Olson, as well as center Giovanni Gentosi , helped the Sea Kings amass 389 yards of offense, including 222 on the ground.
CdM senior quarterback Luke Napolitano completed 14 of 24 passes for 167 yards with no interceptions and also capped the visitors' 11-play, 91-yard drive with a one-yard sneak to open the scoring with 9:22 left before halftime.
But still it was the defense that held CdM together.
"Hopefully this is a little wake-up call for our offense," Meyer said. "It needs to know we can't always rely on the defense. We need to continue to play and be sharp."
Said Crance: "When our offense is lacking, the defense has to step up and hopefully we did that tonight."
Corona del Mar 14, Woodbridge 7
SCORE BY QUARTERS