Mission Viejo High School Coach Bill Crow was despondent, even in victory.
While the Diablos managed to advance to the Southern Conference football semifinals with a 23-9 victory over Cerritos Friday night, it was a struggle. You can call it winning ugly or victory by attrition. Crow just said, "It's something we can't do in the semifinals."
A crowd of 3,000 at Gahr High School watched the Diablos (11-1) pile up 143 yards in penalties, throw two interceptions and fumble once. And still win.
Mission Viejo will face Los Alamitos, a 30-27 winner over Villa Park, in the semifinals. The Diablos are assured of extra work on fundamentals before that game.
"I wish I knew what the problem was, because I'd do something right now to see that it didn't happen again," Crow said. "There were so many mistakes, I don't want to come down on the kids until I see the game films."
The mistakes kept the Dons (9-3) within range for more than three quarters, but Mission Viejo's defense squelched almost every opportunity.
Cerritos quarterback Mark McDaniel had three passes intercepted and was sacked five times for minus-28 yards. Linebacker Jeff Pease had two of the interceptions, including one that deflected off defensive back Pat Donnelly's hand that set up the Diablos' clinching touchdown.
The Dons finished with only 126 total yards, 40 of which came on a second-quarter touchdown pass from McDaniel to Ray White that cut the Diablos' lead to 16-9. Mission Viejo took away the running game, giving up only 44 yards on the ground.
What was equally damaging to the Cerritos running attack was an ankle injury to tailback Darrell Thompson, who had rushed for 940 yards coming into the game. His playing time was limited, and he finished with 20 yards in 9 attempts.
"Losing Darrell took away a lot of the things we like to do," Cerritos Coach Wayne Manzo said. "Their defense did a lot of things that didn't help, either."
Mission Viejo gave Cerritos a 2-0 lead with 9 minutes 3 seconds left in the first quarter, when quarterback Troy Kopp fell on his own fumble in the end zone for a safety.
Kopp more than made up for the mistake, completing three passes for 30 yards on the Diablos' first touchdown drive. Jay Williams, who rushed for 73 yards, gave Mission Viejo a 6-2 with 1:24 left in the first quarter with a one-yard touchdown run.
Kopp, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 161 yards, threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Scott Parrott with 9:37 left in the half. Eric Ekdahl's 44-yard field goal made it 16-2 with 4:49 left in the second quarter.