For the second week in a row, 10th-ranked San Clemente fell behind by 18 points. And for the second week in a row, the Tritons made a miraculous second-half comeback.
Friday night at Mission Viejo High, the Tritons scored a 24-21 South Coast League victory over Mission Viejo and secured a playoff berth, their second in a row and third in four years. Last week's comeback resulted in a 26-26 tie with Trabuco Hills.
The difference Friday night? Would you believe a "fake sweep, quarterback keep" out of punt formation?
"We figured we'd run the 'fly' [offense] in the punt team," Triton Coach Mark McElroy said.
McElroy gave credit for the play design to his assistant, Jon Hamro. But give credit to McElroy for the call and to James Allen and Jason Kim for the execution.
Trailing, 21-9, with 10 seconds left in the third quarter, San Clemente (5-3-1, 2-1-1 in league) faced a fourth-and-six situation at its 42. The ball was snapped short to Kim, who was the middle man in a three-man formation in front of the punter. He turned and faked to Allen, who ran around left end. Kim stood still for a moment, then took off around right end. He wasn't tackled until he reached the Mission Viejo three-yard line.
"We've been working on that for two weeks," Kim said. "I have to turn my back and hope to God the guy doesn't crack me in the back. We figured most people are keying on Allen and they aren't looking for me."
Two plays later, Allen scored from one yard out to make it 21-16 with 11:14 left to play. Mission Viejo, which moved the ball so effectively in the first half, punted the ball away after three downs.
San Clemente drove the ball 80 yards in 12 plays, consuming 7 minutes 7 seconds of the clock. Chris McCormack, who had a rough first half at cornerback, scored the game-winning touchdown on an eight-yard run. Allen plunged over for the two-point conversion to give San Clemente a 24-21 lead with 2:26 left.
The Diablos (5-4, 1-3) drove to the San Clemente 47, but with 1:17 remaining, linebacker Bryan Hadley hit Mission Viejo quarterback John Hudgins from behind and forced a fumble that the Tritons' Joshua Pridham pounced on.
"I don't know if I can take much more of this," McElroy said. "I'm going to need a defibrillator on the sideline."
San Clemente, which trailed, 21-3, at halftime, can finish in a tie for second in the South Coast League if it beats Capistrano Valley (3-6, 0-4) next week and second-ranked Mater Dei (8-1, 4-0) beats Trabuco Hills (7-1-1, 3-0-1).