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Eric Sondheimer / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

There's no doubt about Tesoro now

October 18, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

There's a change in the hierarchy of Orange County football taking place, and Rancho Santa Margarita Tesoro, guided by an energetic 29-year-old coach, Brian Barnes, is the team on the way up.

A year ago, Barnes turned around a program that had been 1-9 the previous season, with Tesoro winning the South Coast League and ending Mission Viejo's 39-game league win streak.

On Friday night, Tesoro proved that its win over Mission Viejo last season was no fluke, beating the third-ranked Diablos, 31-14, before an overflow crowd of more than 5,000 in a league opener at Tesoro.

"We're for real," Barnes said. "Nobody gave us credit last year, and hopefully, this will change some minds."

Running back Zach Mitchell rushed for 172 yards in 30 carries, defensive back Preston King had two of his team's four interceptions and quarterback Robbie Picazo passed for one touchdown, ran for another and made it through another game with no interceptions. He has been intercepted once in his last 13 games.

The Titans improved to 6-0 and left little doubt that their program has arrived in a big way.

"Our goal is to be an Orange County powerhouse," Barnes said.

Few thought the Titans could reach that level so quickly.

With a dominating offensive line, a quarterback who refuses to make mistakes and a defense that never stops pursuing the ball, Tesoro has served notice that it deserves attention in the Pac-5 Division.

The Titans' game plan was to apply nonstop pressure on Mission Viejo quarterback Allan Bridgford, a 6-foot-4 senior who's committed to California and had completed 65% of his passes while throwing for 21 touchdowns.

Bridgford missed on his first eight pass attempts and started two for 14. King ended the first half by intercepting a Bridgford pass and returning it 58 yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 halftime lead for the Titans. Overall, Bridgford completed eight of 24 for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

Whether it was linebackers Scott Graves and Jake Warden blitzing up the middle or lineman Tanner Hodgdon breaking through from the outside, the Titans made sure Bridgford never felt comfortable dropping back to pass. He was sacked four times and forced to hurry numerous times.

"We added some new stunts," Hodgdon said. "We thought we could go inside of the tackles."

And this was all playing out amid a great atmosphere for high school football. There was a flashing sign in front of Tesoro all day that read, "Sold out."

When the gates opened two hours before game time, fans ran to the bleachers to claim seats that were taken in a matter of minutes. That's how fired up everyone was for this game.

The big surprise was how ineffective Mission Viejo (5-1) looked on offense.

Alex Mascarenas broke a tackle on a 15-yard pass and turned it into a 52-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, and Joey Branker caught a 33-yard scoring pass from Bridgford in the fourth quarter. That was it for the Diablos' offense.

Barnes is the son of longtime Los Alamitos Coach John Barnes, known for his offensive schemes.

But on this night, defense won the game and left Tesoro players and fans giddy and confident.

"He's made us think we're winners," Hodgdon said of his coach.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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