In a spring football season that was never guaranteed to even happen, let alone have playoffs, San Clemente High found a way Friday night to celebrate as if it had just won a CIF championship in its final game of the abbreviated COVID-19 season.
Doing the honors was junior kicker Sean Harry, who made a 25-yard field goal as time expired to give the Tritons a 10-7 victory over Mission Viejo, completing a 5-0 season and a South Coast League championship.
“It’s completely unbelievable,” Harry said. “I had confidence I was going to make it. I wanted to do it for the seniors.”
San Clemente players charged onto the field, letting loose frustration and enjoying a final moment of ecstasy in a group setting that was banned from taking place only a month ago. It was scene found in December instead of a cool, clear April night.
James Bohls, the Arizona-bound running back who’s one of the best in the Southland, took over on San Clemente’s final drive. He had a 40-yard run to put the Tritons in position to win. He had been held in check by a strong performance from Mission Viejo’s defense, led by Micah Carreon and Thomas Reese. He had only 24 yards at halftime and finished with 132 yards.
Bohls’ 22-yard touchdown run in the third quarter following a Mission Viejo punt mishap tied the score at 7-7. Mission Viejo failed on field-goal attempts from 49 and 37 yards in the second half.
This spring season has been a revelation for how good the hands are of Mission Viejo sophomore receiver Michael Matthews. He already has a spectacular one-handed catch earlier in the season and this time, he had the focus to catch a 40-yard deflected touchdown pass from Kadin Semonza with 30 seconds left in the first half for a 7-0 Mission Viejo lead.
The pass was intended for another Mission Viejo receiver in the left corner of the end zone. He was double covered. The ball somehow ended up in the hands of Matthews after going off the hand of San Clemente’s Blake Allen. It was like Matthews yelled, “Abracadabra,” then came away with the ball
San Clemente’s Noa Serpa stripped the ball from Semonza to force a turnover earlier in the first half and Mission Viejo’s Ruben Lopez had an interception to stop a potential San Clemente scoring drive.
It has been a year unlike few others for players, coaches and parents. Some teams never got to be on a bus, in a locker room or watch film together in person because of pandemic restrictions. Team bonding had to be developed in the heat of practices and games. There were no playoffs for motivation, no college recruiters on campuses to create excitement and no fans allowed at games other than parents.
It was all about giving players the chance to play in games, no matter how many compromises had to be made or how many protocols needed to be followed.
Earlier this week, Mission Viejo coach Chad Johnson asked one of his senior receivers if he was grateful or resentful what had transpired this spring with no playoffs.
“Honestly coach, I’m just grateful,” the player told him. “I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to play. I’ve savored every moment.”