El Toro quarterback Conner Manning warms up before the Chargers'… (Steve Galluzzo / For The…)
Conner Manning threw four touchdown passes, but it was a pass he caught that he'll remember most in Lake Forest El Toro's 41-31 victory over Rancho Santa Margarita Tesoro on Friday night at Trabuco Hills High.
Manning hauled in an eight-yard pass from Jacob Furnari for the decisive score on a halfback option play with 4:54 remaining and the Chargers, ranked 17th in the Southland by The Times, stayed in contention for the South Coast League title.
"It was a great call, a great throw, great blocking and I just had to catch it," said Manning, who completed 14 of 27 passes for 281 yards, including a 23-yard scoring strike to Blake Murphy on fourth down that clinched the win with 1:51 left. "Jacob is the X-factor of our program. He's a beast."
Furnari rushed for 151 yards and one touchdown in 26 carries, but his lasting memory will also be his toss to Manning that gave the Chargers a 34-31 lead.
"The play is called 'Elway' and we've been practicing it a lot but I didn't expect us to run it in a game," Furnari said. "When our offensive coordinator put in the call I was like 'Are you serious?'"
Furnari took a pitch and started running right, pursued by four Tesoro defenders. He suddenly stopped, pivoted his body and lofted a soft pass to his wide-open quarterback in the left corner of the end zone.
"I can't throw it like Conner -- mine was a little wobbly, but it got there," Furnari added. "We grew up together, we've gone to the same schools since kindergarten, so we had no doubt in each other."
The lead changed hands five times before Tesoro turned the ball over on downs at its own 25-yard line with less than three minutes left, setting up the Chargers' final score.
"We were a little bit rusty in the first half, but we believe we will do it," said Manning, who has committed to Utah and was planning to attend the Utes' game against UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
Manning established a new Orange County single-season passing record last year and is out to break his own mark this fall.
"I've got a good shot, but right now the only record I care about is that we're 8-0," said Manning, who increased his season totals to 34 touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Chargers' come-from-behind effort overshadowed an impressive performance by Tesoro star Nate Tago, who rushed for 321 yards and four touchdowns in 39 carries. His last score, on a four-yard run, gave the Titans a 31-27 lead with 6:24 left.
Tago capped the Titans' opening drive with a two-yard run, then broke loose for a 44-yard score that tied it 14-14 midway through the second quarter. In the first half alone he had 240 yards on 24 carries.
Tesoro quarterback Matt Adam added 88 yards in 16 carries and completed three of nine passes for 31 yards, but he was intercepted three times--the last by Bryan Chinchilla in the El Toro end zone with 18 seconds left.
Zach Schottenfeld kicked a 38-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give the Titans (6-1), ranked No. 4 by The Times, a 17-14 lead.
Murphy had five receptions for 137 yards and three touchdowns, including an 84-yard touchdown catch that pulled El Toro to within 24-20 midway through the third quarter.
Only two teams from the South Coast League receive automatic playoff berths, so Friday's game was critical for both squads. El Toro kept pace with Mission Viejo, which routed San Clemente to remain undefeated.
"In order to be a champion, you have to have an opportunity and make the most of it," El Toro Coach Rob Frith said. "We'll enjoy this tonight, but we have another tough one next week and we have to prepare just as hard."