After having turned in one of the most successful regular seasons in program history, the 2012 season now becomes a one-game season for the Laguna Beach High football team.
The Breakers completed an unbeaten regular season on Nov. 1 when they defeated host Costa Mesa, 35-28. The victory sewed up an outright Orange Coast League title for the Breakers and took them to 9-0-1 overall. The last time a Laguna team completed the regular season without a loss, was the 1968 squad, which went 9-0.
The 1937 and 1946 teams are the other two teams to finish without a loss during the regular season.
Now, Laguna has its sights on postseason play. The Breakers begin the next portion of their season Friday when they play host to Loara in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs. Game time is 7 p.m. at Guyer Field.
"I've been telling the kids every week throughout the season, that the game they were about to play that week, was the most important one of the season," Laguna Coach Mike Churchill said. "Like last week's Costa Mesa game. We beat Estancia a few weeks ago, but if we lost to Costa Mesa, we wouldn't be outright league champs.
"Friday is the most important game we'll play yet. It's that time of the season where half of the teams left in our division, will be gone, eliminated, by Saturday."
Laguna earned the No. 2 seed in the 16-team Southern Division bracket. The Breakers are seeded behind Pacific Coast League champion Corona del Mar (8-2), which won the division title last year. Garden Grove, champion of the Garden Grove League and 8-2 overall, is the No. 3 seed. Orange League champ Katella (8-2) is the No. 4 seed.
"I think the best [playoff] draw went to CdM, and they deserve it," Churchill said. "There's only so many ways you can shuffle that deck.
"Our kids are really focused. They talked about the playoffs during the summertime because they knew that they had the potential to be a very good team. Now, we're here. It's nice to be heading into the playoffs as a league champion."
Laguna secured that title by fending off a determined Costa Mesa team Nov. 1. The Breakers fell behind, 7-0, but took a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter when Robert Clemons scored on an 18-yard run on an inside handoff. The score came one play after quarterback Larry Stewart hit Jake Hexberg on a slant pattern for a 20-yard gain on a fourth-down play.
Two plays after Clemons scored, Drake Martinez came up with an interception and 34-yard return to set Laguna up at the Costa Mesa 11-yard line. Two plays later, Martinez went airborne over a pair of Costa Mesa players and propelled himself, head-first, into the end zone. The score led to a 21-7 halftime lead.
The Breakers looked as though they would pull away when they opened up a 28-7 advantage after scoring on the opening possession of the second half. Facing a third-and-14 from the Laguna 19, Stewart sent a pin-point pass to the middle of the field where Clemons raced to make the catch at the Costa Mesa 40. Clemons then angled his way to an 81-yard touchdown.
Costa Mesa rallied to within 28-20 on a pair of touchdown runs by Oronde Crenshaw who rushed for 278 yards. Martinez, though, gave the Breakers a cushion when he answered with a nine-yard touchdown run that took the score to 35-20 a minute into the fourth quarter. Crenshaw reached the end zone one final time on a 10-yard run for the game's final score.
With 3:55 left in the game, Laguna starting defensive end Ricky Coury went down with an injury. Coury, who showed movement in his legs and arms, was on the ground for more than 10 minutes before he was taken by stretcher off the field. Churchill, who said Wednesday that the injury was a "contusion of the neck," said that Coury was taken to Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach, but was released late Friday night.
"Thankfully, it's not serious, but his neck is sore," Churchill said.
Laguna's first-round playoff opponent Friday, Loara, played its final regular-season game last week and ended up a triple winner. Hitting a trifecta over a two-day period, was all it took to put the Saxons in the playoffs.
When second-place Orange lost to previously winless Santa Ana on Nov. 1, it kept Loara in the mix for a possible playoff berth. The next day, the Saxons won a third-place coin flip, then went out and defeated Ocean View, 28-17, to make the postseason a reality. Loara, Orange and Ocean View had finished in a tie for third place.
Running back Joseph Stirrat rushed for two touchdowns and quarterback David Gistlinck, who has thrown for 1,085 yards, threw two TD passes in the win against Ocean View. Stirrat's performance eased the absence of leading rusher Connor O'Shea, who was injured in the first quarter.
The win was just the third of the season for Saxons, who are 3-7 overall.
"The one thing that jumps out to me about them, is that they aren't overly big and that we match up well," Churchill said. "They have a couple of key players. That running back [O'Shea] is a darn good player who has a ton of yards, and they have a quarterback [Gistlinck], who can throw the ball pretty well."
A win Friday would give Laguna its fourth 10-win season in the program's 78-year history. Last year's Breakers earned the distinction of becoming the third team to do so when they went 10-3 and reached the semifinal round of the Southern Division playoffs.
The CIF Southern Section football playoffs continue with quarterfinal games on Nov. 16. Division semifinals are Nov. 23. The Southern Division championship game is at 2 p.m. Dec. 1 at Angel Stadium.
The CIF State Bowl Championships (Divisions I, II, III, Small Schools) are Dec. 14-15 at The Home Depot Center in Carson.
Laguna Results (9-0-1)
Friday: vs. ^Loara, 7 p.m.
(*denotes league game; ^denotes CIF game)