CARSON — Corona del Mar High football defensive coordinator Dan O'Shea is not one to beat around the bush.
The Sea Kings had a historic run this season, including their third straight CIF Southern Section Southern Division title. They didn't stop there. There they were Saturday afternoon at the StubHub Center, competing in the CIF State Division III Bowl Game just four days before Christmas.
CdM became the first team in state history to finish 16-0 after defeating Atherton Sacred Heart Prep, 27-15. The reason why was simple to O'Shea.
"As a coaching staff, we feel that we coach the best kids in the state of California," O'Shea said. "They show up every day with a work ethic that's unprecedented."
O'Shea has done a lot of winning. He spent six successful years at Trabuco Hills, where he still teaches U.S. history, before coming to CdM in 2011. As far as unprecedented accomplishments, this year's defense at CdM just might be one of them.
Since All-CIF senior starting linebacker Alex Moore tore his ACL in late September, the Sea Kings have started 10 juniors on defense.
Nope, that's not a misprint.
Meet linemen Parker Chase, Mat Flores, Justin Hess and Harrison Carter. Say hello to linebackers Hoyt Crance, Robbie Hoffman and Hugh Crance, as well as defensive backs Barrett Barbato, Brett Greenlee and Chad Redfearn. Safety Charlie Griffin was the only senior starter on defense.
They say age is nothing but a number, and O'Shea isn't going to argue that.
"Last year, we started seven sophomores [on defense] in the [CIF Southern Section Southern Division] title game," he said. "But these kids can play. We don't care if they're a sophomore, junior or senior. We don't look at the class, we look at if they can play, and these kids buy into the culture that we've established."
The defense helped CdM take a 21-0 lead in the first quarter on Saturday. Barbato gave the Sea Kings the three-touchdown edge when he jumped a route to intercept Gators quarterback Mason Randall. Fifty-eight yards later, he was in the end zone with 11 seconds left in the quarter.
"I was getting a little curl drop in," said Barbato, who led CdM with 10 tackles Saturday. "The quarterback was looking straight at the [receiver], and I guess he didn't see me. Right when he threw it, I just jumped up, got it and took it in."
Sacred Heart Prep steadied itself and was down just 21-15 headed into halftime. The Gators got the ball to start the second half, too, so they appeared to have momentum.
But CdM's defense was able to shut down the Gators (13-2), who came into the game averaging 280.6 rushing yards per contest. Junior Ben Burr-Kirven rushed for 170 yards and four touchdowns himself in last week's 42-7 win over El Cerrito in the Northern California Division III regional title game.
In the CIF State Division III Bowl Game, Sacred Heart had just 181 yards rushing and averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
More importantly, the Sea Kings got takeaways. First it was Hess stripping the ball from the quarterback from behind on Sacred Heart's opening possession of the first half, with Chase recovering the fumble. That led to a Jason Neiger field goal, giving CdM a 24-15 edge.
Sacred Heart was driving on its next possession, but a fumbled handoff was recovered by Hess. And, on the second play of the fourth quarter, Hugh Crance recovered when an option pitch play hit the turf.
Chase, who came into the game needing two sacks to tie a single-season CdM record, didn't get any. But he was fine with it.
"I'll trade it in [for the state title]," said Chase, who ended the season with 16 sacks. "They ran the ball most of the time … [Having 10 juniors starting on defense] really gets us excited for next year. All of the same guys, already united."
The final turnover CdM caused was a turnover on downs. It also loomed large as Sacred Heart drove deep in Sea Kings territory late in the fourth quarter, threatening to make it a one-possession game. On fourth-and-10, a pass was caught over the middle by Andrew Daschbach. But Daschbach was driven out of bounds by Barbato and Redfearn, a yard short of the first down at the CdM eight-yard line.