Not only did Newport Beach Corona del Mar extend its school-record winning streak Saturday afternoon, it made a bit of history with a convincing 27-15 triumph over Atherton Sacred Heart Prep in the CIF Division III state championship bowl game at StubHub Center in Carson.
The Sea Kings became the first California team to win 16 games in a season and they did it by turning to the potent rushing attack that has been a trademark of the program during its run to three consecutive section titles. Clinging to a 21-15 halftime lead, they kept feeding tailbacks Cole Martin and Anthony Battista and relied on stout defense to earn their first state bowl championship.
"We've come out strong and had big leads before, only to let teams get back into it," said senior quarterback Luke Napolitano, who threw for 73 yards and two touchdowns. "The same thing happened in the [Southern Division] finals against Garden Grove, but our ground game has been our bread and butter all year. We wanted to run the clock and our line was getting a big push up front."
Napolitano capped the Sea Kings' opening drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to Bo St. Geme. Four plays after a botched punt attempt gave Corona del Mar the ball at Sacred Heart's 29, Napolitano rolled out and found Connor Sage for another five-yard score.
Barrett Barbato returned an interception 58 yards to increase the Sea Kings' lead to 21-0 with 11 seconds left in the first quarter, but Sacred Heart seized the momentum when Charlie Robinson picked off a sideline pass and took it 37 yards for a touchdown. Ben Burr-Kirven ran 47 yards for a touchdown to cut the Gators' deficit to six points early in the second quarter.
"On the interception, I just read the quarterback's eyes, he couldn't see me and I jumped up and caught it," said Barbato, who had 10 tackles. "Our main goal on defense was to stack the box and use our speed, quickness and physicality to shut No. 25 [Burr-Kirven] down. He's tough but I thought we did a pretty good job."
Martin had 155 yards in 28 carries and Battista had 67 yards in 12 carries to help Corona del Mar win its 26th consecutive game.
"It hasn't hit us yet but to be the first team [in California] to go 16-0 is special for our guys," Coach Scott Meyer said. "It's a lot of games, but we made it through somehow. It's an amazing accomplishment."
Defensive tackle Justin Hess recovered a fumble by quarterback Mason Randall at Sacred Heart's 31-yard line early in the third quarter and Jason Neiger ended the ensuing drive with a 31-yard field goal. He kicked a 35-yard field goal to close the scoring with 7 minutes 11 seconds to play.
Burr-Kirven had 77 yards in seven carries and Randall threw for 107 yards for the Central Coast Section champion Gators (13-2).