El Toro defensive back Evan Acker grabs a fumble away from running back Daniel… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Conner Manning is no average quarterback, but Mission Viejo sure made him look like one Friday night, intercepting six passes on its way to a 49-7 victory over Lake Forest El Toro.
The Diablos (10-0, 4-0), ranked No. 4 in the Southland by The Times, clinched their fourth consecutive South Coast League title and put themselves in the running for the top seeding in the Pac-5 Division playoffs. CIF Southern Section pairings will be released Sunday.
"That's for the CIF to decide, I don't do that," Mission Viejo Coach Bob Johnson said. "We've been here before. We have to win four games whether we're seeded first, second or 10th."
Through nine games, Manning had thrown for 3,525 yards and 38 touchdowns with three interceptions in 400 attempts, but the Utah-bound senior was picked off four times in the first half and finished 22 of 46 for a season-low 230 yards.
"He's very good, but we've been working on our schemes for a few weeks and had a system he hadn't seen before," Johnson said of Manning. "It was an excellent night defensively, maybe the best we've ever had."
Safety Hunter Remington had three interceptions, returning the last 31 yards for the final score with 5:46 left.
"No way did I expect that to happen," Remington said. "It was a combination of our pass rush and our coverage that did it. I was responsible for the deep middle and I happened to be in the right place at the right time."
Mission Viejo entered the game averaging 51.8 points a game and El Toro, which also qualifies for the playoffs, was averaging 47.2, but what was supposed to be a shootout between two of Orange County's most prolific offenses turned into a showcase for the Diablos' defense.
"This has been our goal all season and we've gotten better and better," Remington said. "They've got a great offense and a great quarterback but we were prepared for them."
Alex Suchesk rushed for 128 yards and one touchdown in 20 carries and Max Redfield blocked a punt and caught six passes for 92 yards, including a 48-yard scoring reception in the second quarter.
Ian Fieber completed 20 of 30 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns for host Mission Viejo, which put the game out of reach on a 22-yard run by Garrett Marino early in the fourth quarter.
"I wasn't trying to outplay [Manning] or anything like that, I just wanted to give my team the [league] championship. It was great offense, defense and special teams and I couldn't be prouder."
After Suchesk fumbled on the third play from scrimmage, Sean Modster made a diving interception to give Mission Viejo the ball back at its own 15-yard line. The Diablos marched 85 yards in 12 plays, scoring on a 19-yard pass from Fieber to Modster.
On its next drive, El Toro moved to the Mission Viejo 3-yard line, but Remington intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it 21 yards.
After Bryan Chinchilla intercepted Fieber at the Diablos' 40, El Toro marched to the 18 on its next drive, but Remington made another interception at the goal line.
Mission Viejo took a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter on a 27-yard run by Marcus Collins.
Modster, Zack Holland and linebacker Steven Macke each had one interception for the Diablos.
Manning connected with Dominic Collins from three yards out to pull El Toro (9-1, 3-1) to within 14-7 midway through the second quarter.
Jacob Furnari, the Chargers' leading rusher, was injured on the kickoff return after Mission Viejo's first touchdown and sat out the remainder of the game, but Jacob Frigger filled in with 85 yards in 19 carries.
Cody White caught nine passes for 88 yards and Blake Murphy had five receptions for 76 yards for El Toro.