Powered by the running of senior Marcus Garcia, Los Alamitos High School clinched the Empire League championship Friday night, beating Katella, 28-7, in Glover Stadium.
"If anyone had told me at the beginning of the season that we'd clinch without having to play all five teams (in the league), I wouldn't have believed it," said Los Alamitos Coach John Barnes, dripping with Gatorade after his players pulled a New York Giants-like stunt, then turned somersaults on the field in celebration.
The victory gives the Griffins (8-1, 4-0) their second championship in three years. In 1985, they tied for the league title with Pacifica.
"They're the class of this league," Katella Coach Larry Anderson said. "They are well-coached, physical and balanced."
Los Alamitos' offense wasn't as balanced as it has been on other outings. Sophomore quarterback Todd Gragnano was ineffective, completing 2 of 9 passes for 29 yards, and throwing a first-quarter interception to Katella's Joe Pasterello.
But, thanks to Garcia, a passing game wasn't necessary. Already the county's fifth leading rusher with 1,008 yards entering the game, Garcia carried the ball 35 times for 226 yards and scored all four Griffin touchdowns, on runs of two, two, one and three yards. This season, Garcia has scored 15 touchdowns for 90 points.
Despite Garcia's rushing frenzy, Katella (5-2-1, 1-1-1) proved a tough opponent, keeping the game close in the first half. After a scoreless first quarter, Los Alamitos scored early in the second, with Garcia's first touchdown ending a 10-play, 55-yard drive.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Katella's Ted Brown took the ball at the two, broke past a pack of Griffin defenders and ran 98 yards for a touchdown to tie the score.
Los Alamitos quickly came back with another Garcia score. At at halftime, Garcia had 167 yards and the Griffins a 14-7 lead.
Katella came into the second half at a major disadvantage. Pasterello, who last week rushed for 181 yards in the Knight's victory over Cypress, had suffered a slight concussion on a defensive series near the end of the second quarter and didn't return to the field. Quarterback Jeff Yourstone (8 of 15 for 93 yards) tried to make up the difference, but Los Alamitos' defense was overpowering, dropping him for a total loss of 43 yards. Tim Wynn had three sacks.
Garcia scored again in both the third and fourth quarters to seal the victory.
Katella, in the midst of its first winning season in 18 years, could still reach the playoffs with a victory next week against Loara.