A week ago, Barrett Barbato made his first trip to the StubHub Center, home to the Los Angeles Galaxy. He's far from a soccer fan, but once he made it onto the field, the facility in Carson blew him away.
Only the top high school football teams in the state earned the right to play at the StubHub Center. Barbato's school, Corona del Mar, made it this far.
The Sea Kings arrived at the stadium just after 10 a.m., two hours prior to kickoff of their CIF State Division III Bowl Game. Barbato and his teammates checked into their locker room, each player had their own stall.
After 15 minutes, the Sea Kings left the changing quarters and walked out of the tunnel to see the actual field. The field looked like one for football. Players brought out their phones and began taking photos.
At noon, cable TV cameras focused on Barbato and the Sea Kings. And they put on a show right away against Atherton Sacred Heart Prep, taking a 21-point lead in the opening quarter.
The Sea Kings only scored six more points the rest of the way, but it proved to be more than enough to win, 27-15, and become the first high school football team in California to produce a 16-0 season.
Barbato and the CdM defense led the way in the second half by shutting out the Gators and coming away with three fumbles. Barbato, a junior safety, finished with a team-high 10 tackles, all solo, and he made two key plays on defense. The second play by Barbato stopped a Sacred Heart Prep drive on downs inside CdM's 10-yard line late in the fourth quarter and the first play resulted in a CdM touchdown late in the first quarter.
As fast as Barbato sped up the sideline to return an interception 58 yards for a touchdown, the Sea Kings began to run away from the Gators. Only the time left, 36 minutes, stood in the way of the Sea Kings completing a perfect season.
In the next 12 minutes, the momentum shifted sides. Sacred Heart Prep rallied in the second quarter, putting up 15 points to make it a game right before halftime.
"We knew they would never give up," Barbato says.
The Gators' top player, Ben Burr-Kirven, led the charge, knocking out Barbato's younger brother, Sutty, in the process.
Barbato says he found out Burr-Kirven gave Sutty a concussion during a kickoff in the first quarter.
"I was going out for a kickoff and he wasn't in his usual spot," Barbato says of his brother, a sophomore. "I actually didn't notice until the third quarter."
The third quarter is when Barbato and the Sea Kings made sure to slow down Burr-Kirven.
The only two big runs CdM allowed Burr-Kirven, a 6-foot, 200-pound junior, to make came in the second quarter. The first when he converted a two-point attempt 4 minutes into the quarter. Four and a half minutes later, he broke a 47-yard touchdown run to cut CdM's lead to 21-15.
In the second half, the Sea Kings limited Burr-Kirven to 20 yards and he finished with seven rushes for 77 yards. The Gators' other ballcarriers struggled holding onto the ball, leading to three fumbles, two in the third quarter.
The first and last fumbles led to CdM's Jason Neiger converting field goals from 31 and 35 yards. The second fumble stopped Sacred Heart Prep inside CdM's 20-yard line.
Converting in the red zone became an issue for the Gators (13-2) in the second half. Barbato didn't help their cause during their second trip.
Facing a fourth-and-10 on the Sea Kings' 17, Sacred Heart Prep went for it. Quarterback Mason Randall completed a pass to tight end Andrew Daschbach, who ran to the left, but Barbato, with the help of cornerback Chad Redfearn, pushed Daschbach out of bounds, one yard shy of the first down.
"We knew it was over," says Barbato, as 4:20 remained in the game before the Sea Kings wrapped up a historic season.