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Fryer on football: Two nights, two games, four teams show why high school football is alive and well

09/28/2019, 10:00am PDT
By Steve Fryer

Fryer on football: Two nights, two games, four teams show why high school football is alive and well


By  | | Orange County Register

PUBLISHED: September 28, 2019 at 1:51 am | UPDATED: September 28, 2019 at 1:51 am

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Sometimes it seems that high school football is a dying sport.

The number of high school kids playing football has been dropping in California and elsewhere. Concussions are a concern. The growth of elite programs that are more like college teams than high school teams is not a great development, and neither is the number of high-profile transfers.


Then, on back-to-back nights in recent days, proof arrived that high school football is going to be OK.

Corona del Mar beat San Clemente 42-21 on Thursday at Newport Harbor High, Corona del Mar’s home field. Corona del Mar is like the San Diego Chargers of the early 1980s when the offense was called “Air Coryell,” named for Coach Don Coryell who installed an exciting and innovative passing game.

Corona del Mar’s smooth quarterback, Ethan Garbers, threw for 376 yards and four touchdowns. He has a great assortment of receivers, including John Humphreys, a Stanford commit, and the under-recruited Bradley Schlom (all he does is get open and catch the football … you know, maybe a couple of colleges can use a guy like that) and big, quick, sure-handed tight end Mark Redman.

Humphreys is the most un-coverable receiver in Orange County.

Four San Clemente defenders try to stop Corona del Mar wide receiver John Humphreys in Newport Beach on Thursday, September 26, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei has a great group of defensive backs, but line any of them up against Humphreys and the big (6-5, 205), fast Humphreys is going to win the battle for the football. The way Humphreys uses his body to screen out a defensive back when the ball is in flight is reminiscent of how Tony Gonzalez did that when Gonzalez was a tight end at Huntington Beach in the early 1990s.

It’s no coincidence that Gonzalez and Humphreys have been good on the basketball court, too.

After the game, though, is when you can see how special the game is to the Corona del Mar and San Clemente players. They played for their team, their school and each other.

As good as their athletes are, the togetherness of the players might really be Corona del Mar’s strong suit. Those long postgame hugs only happen when all of the time in the weight room, in the film room and on the practice pays off with a big win like it Thursday.

If San Clemente’s players felt they were in over their heads trying to match touchdowns with Corona del Mar, they did not show it, as the Tritons’ pride would not allow quarterback Nick Billoups and his teammates to let up. That “one-town-one-team” mantra in San Clemente football is not fake.

Cypress beat Capistrano Valley 42-28 on Friday at Western High, Cypress’ home field. Cypress has an intriguing mix of speed and physicality. The Centurions are going to be 10-0 when the regular season ends and are going to make a run at the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 championship.

Like the better teams, Cypress has that brotherhood that one finds in football perhaps more than in any other sport. It’s a high-sacrifice sport, with the lifting, the long hours of practice under the hot summer sun and the verbal, um, “motivation” at which football coaches seem to be so much more creative than other sports’ coaches.

Cypress running back Isaac Hurtado, who rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns and turned a screen pass into a multi-tackle-breaking, go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, was crying after the game. He tweaked his surgically-repaired knee in the second half, but that was not the source of the tears.

Cypress had lost to Capistrano Valley last season and in 2017. Hurtado, a senior, was overcome by the emotion of finally getting a win over the Cougars.

Capistrano Valley trailed in Friday’s game 28-0. The Cougars rallied to tie it before Hurtado, the dominant player of the first half, resumed his dominance in the fourth quarter. Capistrano Valley was getting out-hit and out-everything’d in the first half, but the Cougars’ pride kicked in and they made a stunning comeback in the second half to make it a great game.

The Cougars, led by quarterback Dartanyon Moussiaux and receivers Jack Haley and Brady Kasper, almost made that comeback a comeback win. They must have been bitterly disappointed when the game was over.

But when Capistrano Valley coach Sean Curtis finished his postgame talk to the Cougars players, they gathered in a tight huddle, raised their helmets and yelled “Capo!” with the energy of a team that had won the game.

They had given everything they had for their team, their school and each other.

Yes, high school football is going to be OK.

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