Carson running back Tony Ingram returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Who is Conner Manning and how did he come out of nowhere to eclipse Matt Barkley as the most prolific high school passer in Orange County history?
That's the question some are asking a day after Manning passed for 465 yards and two touchdowns to send Lake Forest El Toro into the Southwest Division championship game with a 47-41 victory over La Habra.
The 6-foot-2 Manning, only a junior, increased his season passing total to 3,946 yards, breaking Barkley's Orange County record of 3,560 yards established in 2007 during his junior season at Santa Ana Mater Dei.
Robert Frith, El Toro's third-year coach, tells how Manning made his varsity debut last season as a sophomore in the opening game. The team was playing a game on the road in Boston, and the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks got injured.
Manning was sitting in the stands eating pizza while waiting for the junior varsity game.
"I go up to him, 'Hey, man, get your stuff on,' " Frith said. "He had not taken one rep with the varsity. His pizza goes flying in the air and he's off and running. We took the jersey off one kid and he had junior varsity pants. He hung in there tough. When the game was over, I put my arm around him, 'Welcome to varsity football.' "
Starting in February, Manning spent three days a week working with Frith and others on El Toro passing schemes.
"He dedicated himself to throwing the football and working with the kids," Frith said. "We spent a tremendous amount of time looking at film and studying passing concepts. I've never seen a kid work like him."
El Toro uses a no-huddle, hurry-up spread offense.
"I love it," Manning said. "There's nothing greater than to throw the ball the whole game. The offensive line has been amazing."
El Toro will play Tustin in next Saturday's 2 p.m. final at Angel Stadium.
And Frith still owes Manning some pizza.
"Maybe after the game, I'll make him give me a pizza if we win," Manning said.
Colts are charging
Carson Coach Elijah Asante knew what he was doing when he scheduled Mater Dei, Mission Viejo, Santa Margarita and Long Beach Poly in nonleague games. Carson (8-5) has advanced to the City Section Division I final against Narbonne at 8 p.m. Friday at East Los Angeles College after knocking off the Marine League and Western League champions in the last two weeks.
"Our victory was a confirmation of our philosophy that competition breeds champions," Asante said.