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Capo Valley, El Toro QBs look to add another highlight to seasons
MISSION VIEJO They’ve got the quarterback-speak down pat, gracefully side-stepping personal praise to spread acclaim across the field, similar to the fashion in which they distribute the football on game day.
El Toro junior Cooper Jones called his offensive line the best the school has had in the past four to five seasons. Capistrano Valley senior Kevin Brown raved about his team’s defense which is allowing less than eight points a game. And they both are all in on the playmakers that line up next to them on the field.
El Toro coach Mike Mayoral and Capo Valley’s Ernie Bucher essentially described their signal callers the same way, each referring to his starter as a “student of the game.”
The leadership and mental aptitude is apparent watching the two orchestrate their up-tempo offenses at practice. The work they put in Monday through Thursday is evident when looking at Friday night box scores as the South County quarterbacks are statistically having two of the best seasons in the area.
Heading into Week 7, Jones ranks third in Orange County in passing yards and Brown is fifth, setting the stage for what could turn into a fireworks show Friday night when No. 16 Capistrano Valley hosts No. 20 El Toro in a game that should dictate the eventual Sea View League champion.
“Going into this (season), everybody always looks at El Toro as the team to beat,” Brown said. “With what we’ve been able to do in these previous seven games, and against Laguna Hills last week, I think that gap is a lot closer than people think.”
The comparison between Capo Valley and El Toro is a natural one. Both pride themselves offensively on tempo, getting to the line of scrimmage and going. But as similar as the numbers and systems might be, the paths Jones and Brown took to starting roles are distinct.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Brown is in his second year starting, having served as a sophomore backup on the 2014 squad that made a run to the CIF-SS Southwest Division semifinals.
Stepping into the startin role as a junior last season, Brown dealt with injuries to the team’s receiving core, which ultimately set the tone for Capo’s frustrating 5-5 finish that kept them out of the playoffs.
“It helps to have a two-year starter,” Bucher said, referencing Brown. “This is my fourth year, and this is the first time we’ve had a returning starter (at quarterback), which is nice. He’s got to read pre-snap coverage, and everything we do is pretty much a run-pass option. There’s no play off where you can just turn around and hand it off. Those days are done.”
There’s a comfort factor that’s evident this season. Brown has already passed for more yards in seven games (1,784) than he did last season, he is sitting at 18 touchdown passes, one less than he had a year ago and his 62-percent completion rate is 12 points higher than it was in 2015.
“(Brown) is a really good player,” Mayoral said. “He’s having a great year. They’ve got three very good receivers that he spreads it around to pretty well, and up front they protect him.”
Michael Dyer, Nathan Manning and Riley Kasper each have 30 or more receptions for the Cougars, and collectively, the trio has hauled in 15 touchdown passes, making it impossible for opposing defenses to key on just one of Brown’s targets.
El Toro boasts similar depth at receiver, with Austin Derrico and Noah Aguilar each ranking in the county’s top 10 for receptions and yards.
In the summer months, many assumed Jones would spend the season on the sideline as the team’s backup to senior Dawit Wilson, who started for the Chargers and was an All-South Coast League quarterback last season.
“Dawit’s a great quarterback, but in my mind, we were competing for that job, pushing each other,” Jones explained. “Honestly, I felt confident enough that even though last year he was starting, that I wanted to win that starting job.”
Wilson wound up transferring to Cantwell Sacred Heart of Montebello in July, giving the Jones an opportunity to start as a junior.
“He’s worked his butt off,” Mayoral said of Jones. “He lifted with the linemen in the summer, and they have a really good rapport. And that’s so important for respect, and the team really respects him.”
El Toro’s 2-5 record isn’t indicative of how talented the team actually is. Four of its losses have come against highly ranked county teams: No. 14 La Habra, No. 12 Corona del Mar, No. 13 Tesoro and No. 2 Mission Viejo.
Jones (6-1, 180) has five games this season where he tossed for 320-plus yards, and he is coming off a four-touchdown performance against Aliso Niguel where the Chargers offense racked up 63 points. For the season, he has 17 touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
“El Toro is always good,” Bucher said. “They look the same, year in to year out. I think that’s a testament to the great job that they do there. They’re lanky and strong on the defensive line. They always have great receivers. Always have a great quarterback. They’re just freaking good.”
As of late, the Chargers have had the Cougars number too. Friday’s meeting will mark the sixth time in the last seven seasons the two schools have faced off. El Toro has won all five previous encounters, including last a 44-0 drubbing last October.
With an inside track to the league title on the line, and a pair of quarterbacks who are hitting their stride, Friday night’s tilt should be much more competitive than last season’s tilt.
“It’s going to come down to execution and making plays,” Bucher said. “Even though they’re 2-5, they realize they’re 2-5 because they’ve played a hell of a schedule. It’s going to be two really good football teams and both are going to play confident.”
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