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Fryer: Playoff openers deliver tough lessons
MISSION VIEJO - It was a good two weeks for El Toro football.
El Toro lost last week, and this week. The Chargers were beaten, and soundly, by Santa Margarita on Friday after getting drilled by Mission Viejo.
High school football is part of the curriculum. It is an outdoor class. And El Toro got quite an education the past two weeks.
Friday’s 38-13 loss to Santa Margarita in a Pac-5 Division first-round playoff game and last week’s 49-7 loss to Mission Viejo showed El Toro football just how far it has to go to compete in Southern California’s best playoff division and in Orange County’s best public-schools league.
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It is said we learn more from our defeats than our victories, that mistakes teach us more than our successes.
El Toro was in the Sea View the past few years. As part of the 10-school Coast View Conference that divides the schools into the upper South Coast League and the lower Sea View League, El Toro moved up to the South Coast this year.
The Chargers did well. They went 3-1 in the five-team South Coast League, beating a county top-10 team, Tesoro, and two top 15 teams, San Clemente and Trabuco Hills.
Then they ran into a superior program with a superior group of athletes, Mission Viejo. El Toro quarterback Conner Manning threw six interceptions in that game, after throwing only three over the previous nine games.
Manning was better Friday. He threw for 322 yards, leaving him only 23 shy of the Orange County career passing yardage record that USC’s Matt Barkley set for Mater Dei. Manning threw one interception, but it was a costly one.
But, like it was with Mission Viejo, El Toro could not match up with a physically better team. Santa Margarita had a size advantage up front, and the Eagles played with a physicality that is typical of a Trinity League team but is foreign to a Sea View League team.
El Toro still is making that transition from Sea View League to the South Coast League, and from the Southwest Division, which used to be called Division 6, to the Pac-5 Division that was known as Division 1.
It is quite a leap. La Harbra, when it was winning four Southwest Division titles in a row, played Pac-5 Division teams in nonleague games, but beat none of them. Tustin was Southwest Division champion last year, when it played one Pac-5 team and lost — 45-6, to Orange Lutheran, which was a last-place Trinity League team in 2011.
El Toro, which finished 9-2, has seen up close and personal the type of teams it will have to beat to win a league championship in the South Coast League and to advance in the Pac-5 playoffs.
Santa Margarita (9-2) advances, and gets to play a second-round home game next week against top-seeded St. Bonaventure of Ventura. The Eagles beat St.Bonaventure’s Seraphs, 35-27, in September when they still had Johnny Stanton at quarterback.
Stanton suffered a season-ending ACL tear that month. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Sweet was Stanton-esque at times, throwing the ball with gusto and getting big first downs running the ball like his predecessor did.
Santa Margarita has endured injuries and defections via transfer, but its quest for a second consecutive Pac-5 title continues.
The Chargers’ quest for bigger and better things will continue without Manning and several other outstanding seniors.
Ace running back Jacob Furnari, who did not play because of a dislocated elbow suffered early in the Mission Viejo loss, is graduating.
So are most of the guys who made up teams stellar receiving corps, Cody White, Blake Murphy and Alec Shoffeit. Standout defensive lineman Jeff Nelson is a senior, as is high-quality linebacker Gabe Cerda.
So 2013 will be a rebuilding year for El Toro football. What they will construct will be built upon the lessons learned over two disappointing weeks of 2012.