COSTA MESA — To look at it one way, the Costa Mesa High football team was just 14 points from going undefeated in the Orange Coast League this year.
The Mustangs lost by just two points to Estancia and two points to Godinez.
But the Mustangs will finish fourth in league and more than likely not make the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs. The latest tough loss, which came Thursday night at Jim Scott Stadium, was probably the end of their season.
Costa Mesa battled Laguna Beach to the end but came up short on senior night, 35-28, in the league finale for both teams.
The Breakers (9-0-1, 5-0 in league) won the league title outright. The Mustangs (4-6, 2-3) finished fourth in league, and only the top three teams are guaranteed berths.
Costa Mesa will apply for the Southern Division's lone at-large berth, but Coach Wally Grant knows it will more than likely go to a team from the Pacific Coast League. But Grant said that he doesn't believe the PCL deserves to be in the Southern Division.
"They're not going to give it to us at 4-6, over a Beckman or Northwood at 4-6," Grant said. "One of those schools is going to be 4-6 … Of course we're going to apply, but you know what? We haven't been ranked all year. To be truthful, even if we won this game, at 5-5 they're still not taking us. They're going to take a PCL team.
"We had it right by getting this league out. [The Pacific Coast League] doesn't belong in this division, and that's the reason why. You've got teams that are 2-6-1, 3-6, and they're still ranked? They don't belong … and one of those teams are going. It's not fair, and it's not right. They were out of this [division], they made an appeal, and that's a big mistake, letting them back in this division."
If the Mustangs' season is over, Grant certainly saw positives in the final game. His team easily pushed the Breakers, ranked No. 2 in the Southern Division, more than any other team in league.
Junior running back Oronde Crenshaw, who had 43 carries for 260 yards and four touchdowns, was a big reason why. Crenshaw's last score, from 10 yards out, came with 1:41 left in the game. It brought the Mustangs within a touchdown.
Jake Lux's ensuing onside kick was well-executed, as it popped high into the air. But it was grabbed by Laguna Beach's Adam Farsheed, and the Breakers were able to run the clock out.
Costa Mesa twice rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the second half, but could not pull even. Big games by Laguna Beach senior running back Drake Martinez (148 rushing yards and three touchdowns) and senior Robert Clemens (one rushing and one receiving touchdown) hurt the Mustangs.
Four turnovers, including two fumbles and two interceptions on Mesa's only two pass attempts of the game, also did not help matters.
"These kids battled," Grant said. "We overcame a lot of adversity, in terms of all the injuries that we accumulated. The kids responded. Every game that we played was a battle. I'm proud of what we did this season. I'm extremely disappointed that we came up short in league.
"This game was a winnable game, Estancia was a winnable game, Godinez was a winnable game. They were fun games, but you know what that means? It means that we didn't work hard enough in the offseason. We need to go back and look at what we did, and we need to work harder."
The Mustangs struck first on Crenshaw's 48-yard touchdown run on their first possession. They even had a chance to go up two scores, as senior captain Oscar Reyes stripped the ball from the Laguna running back and recovered it at the Breakers' 45-yard line.
But two plays later, Mesa fumbled the ball back to Laguna Beach. The Mustangs would not get past the 50-yard line for the rest of the half.
"That hurt us a lot," Grant said. "That's a momentum-changer. Most of the time, a 48-minute football game comes down to about six or seven plays, and that usually swings the tide one way or another."
Noah JeyaRajah intercepted a pass and Kyle Barnett recovered a fumble in the second half for the Mustangs, who trailed, 21-7, at halftime.
Laguna Beach built its lead. Martinez scored two rushing touchdowns in the first half. He set up the second one, after intercepting Mesa's only pass attempt of the half and returning it to the Costa Mesa 11-yard line.