The San Diego Section football playoffs featured a decidedly different look this season with divisions based on competition tiers rather than traditional student enrollment levels. This year’s six championship games produced some interesting match-ups, perhaps none more interesting than last Saturday’s Division III contest pitting the Christian Patriots and the San Marcos Knights.
Christian is a small private school tucked away in the eastern foothills of El Cajon. The student enrollment is listed at 384, including about 200 foreign exchange students, which leaves about 150 boys at the school to play football.
San Marcos, meanwhile, is a public school in North County with a student enrollment of more than 2,200 students.
A David versus Goliath mismatch in terms of student enrollment sizes, the second-seeded Patriots (12-1) proved up to the challenge by defeating the fifth-seeded Knights, 19-7, on a damp, chilly night at San Diego Mesa College.
The victory closed out a trifecta of sorts for Christian, which defeated schools with enrollment sizes of 2,000 (Morse) and 2,100 (Hilltop) in the preceding two playoff rounds. The Patriots toppled Morse, 42-14, in the quarterfinals and eliminated Hilltop, 28-13, in the semifinals.
In last Saturday’s title contest, Christian built a 19-0 halftime lead with a berth in the state regional playoffs on the line.
Many at the school were calling this year’s Patriot team among the best in school history. Based on this year’s playoff results, few might argue that.
“We might be a small school but we proved we’re capable of accomplishing great things,” Christian senior receiver/defensive back Kai Arvan said. “We showed we could do things that people said couldn’t be done.”
The division title was the ninth overall for the school. Prior to this season, Christian captured two Division V titles (2006 and 2011) and before that won four Division IV championships (1993-95 and 2002) and two Class 1A titles (1975 and 1978).
The Patriots shocked top-seeded Santa Fe Christian, 32-29, on a 37-yard field goal by Mason Powell with 29 seconds to play to capture the 2011 Division V title game, also played at Mesa College.
Several players remain on the Christian roster from that championship team, among them senior lineman Owen Adair from Bonita.
“Being a sophomore then, I was blessed with a great opportunity to be a part of that championship team,” Adair said. “In fact, that inspired me to work hard during the offseason to get better.”
Adair said positive thinking had much to do with the outcome of the 2013 statement game.
“We had the mentality that we could win even though they were a much bigger school,” he said. “We knew we could do it.”
And they did.
The regular season City Conference Central League champions made their early lead stand up with a solid defensive effort despite being held off the scoreboard in the second half.
Arvan started the Pats on the way to earning their second CIF title in three years with an interception in the first quarter. Christian proceeded to drive the ball down field to record the game’s opening touchdown as senior quarterback Michael Carrillo completed a 16-yard scoring pass to Arvan in the corner of the end zone.
The Patriots quickly increased their lead to 13-0 when senior linebacker/tight end Sebastian Swift intercepted a pass thrown by San Marcos junior quarterback Will Freed and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown.
Senior standout running back/linebacker Paris Miller made it 19-0 with a superb second effort, refusing to go down along the sideline en route to scoring on a 12-yard touchdown run with 4:17 to play before halftime.
Miller finished the game with 217 rushing yards to give him 1,194 for the season to go with 17 total touchdowns.
Carrillo continued a stellar season by completing 10 of 18 attempts for 83 yards with one touchdown — his 32nd this season to go with 2,523 passing yards.
Arvan, who had three touchdown catches in Christian’s semifinal victory against the third-seeded Hilltop Lancers on Nov. 29, had four catches for 37 yards and the one touchdown in Saturday’s championship game.
Other targets for Carrillo in Saturday’s CIF final included Miller with two catches for 34 yards and junior receiver/defensive back Trevor Howell with three catches for 12 yards.
Senior tight end/linebacker Trenton Sauls braced the Christian running game with seven carries for 54 yards.
The Pats also successfully executed a fake punt to set up their last touchdown.
But it was clearly the Patriot defense that left its mark on this year’s Division III title game as the Knights (9-5) suffered seven turnovers in the game.
Swift keyed Christian defenders with two picks, 12 tackles and two sacks. Senior running back/defensive end Zane Coffman made one interception and also recovered a fumble, while freshman lineman Jon Stine and junior offensive lineman/linebacker Chad Humphries also recovered fumbles.
San Marcos did not score until 9:14 was left in the third quarter as senior Isiah Hennie burst into the end zone on a three-yard run from the wildcat position.
The Knights, who pulled off one of the section’s biggest shockers with a 3-0 quarterfinal win over fourth-seeded Santa Fe Christian and eliminated eighth-seeded Granite Hills by a 28-17 score in the division semifinals, rolled up 340 offensive yards in the game but could only manage eight first downs.
Excellent tackling by Christian defenders proved to be the difference, limiting San Marcos to few big plays in the game.
Sophomore receiver/defensive back Nick Sexton had one catch and one carry in the game. The Eastlake resident could be in line to share continued success with future Patriot teams.
“I feel really blessed being a part of this championship team as a sophomore,” said Sexton, who entered the title contest with 17 catches for 333 yards and five touchdowns. “The feeling is really difficult to put into words. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.”
Sexton had four kick-off returns for a 36.25-yard average during the season, including a longest return of 78 yards in a 66-3 non-league victory against El Cajon Valley on Sept. 13.
Fellow South County teammates Christian Yaotani and Christian Mesa each recorded one interception during the season.
2013 San Diego Section Football Championships
(1) Mission Hills 36, (3) Oceanside 14
(3) Cathedral Catholic 37, (1) San Pasqual 31 (3 OT)
(2) St. Augustine 49, (8) Mission Bay 0
(2) Christian 19, (5) San Marcos 7
(2) Sweetwater 7, (1) Monte Vista 0
(2) Holtville 42, (1) Crawford 6