Kennedy's Ray Aldapa is stopped by the Pacifica defense during their Empire League game Thursday night at Bolsa Grande High. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Surging Pacifica takes 3rd in Empire League


GARDEN GROVE – Pacifica almost certainly clinched a CIF-SS playoff berth Thursday with a 48-14 win over Kennedy in an Empire League game at Bolsa Grande High.

It was the final regular-season game for both.

The Mariners finished third in the six-team Empire League with a 3-2 league record. The top three finishers are called automatic qualifiers, although there might be some divisions in which automatic qualifiers will find there is not enough room in their division’s 16-team bracket for them.

Pacifica, which is in CIF-SS Division 10, concluded the regular season with a 6-4 overall record. A playoff appearance would be the Mariners’ first in five seasons.

Kennedy ends the regular season with a 5-5 overall record and a 2-3 league record. The Fighting Irish have the .500 overall record required to put them in the first group of candidates for an at-large berth in Division 9 if at-large berths are available in that division.

Mariners junior quarterback Ben Jefferson passed for 172 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for 109 yards and a touchdown.

Pacifica senior running back Raul Balderas rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. He also had a 53-yard pass reception for a touchdown and a 39-yard catch to give him 92 receiving yards. Junior receiver Matt Moslenko had two touchdown receptions.

The Mariners were 0-2 in league after losses to Valencia and Tustin. They then won their final three league games, stringing together victories over Cypress, Western and Kennedy.

“We’re meshing at the right time,” Jefferson said. “We’re on a three-game winning streak coming out of league. I want to give a shout-out to our offensive line.”

That offensive line: left tackle Danny Benavides, left guard Ruben Valdez, center Martin Barcenas, right guard Joey Gallo and right tackle Robert Ramos.

Pacifica coach Vinnie Lopez said the Mariners have played their best in recent weeks.

“I like the way we’ve been finishing the last three games,” Lopez said. “We’re starting to peak at the right time. I feel really good about our team right now.”

Pacifica’s defense held Kennedy running back Alonzo Pineda to 77 rushing yards.

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