San Clemente's Brandon Reaves, right, evades the tackle from Valencia's Zion Dunson during the CIF-SS Division 2 playoff game in San Clemente on Friday, November 25, 2016. (Photo by Foster Snell, Contributing Photographer)

San Clemente shakes off turnovers, moves on to Div. 2 final


SAN CLEMENTE – San Clemente had trouble hanging on to the football in the first half Friday night.

The Tritons never gave it up in the second.

San Clemente shook off three first-half turnovers and came back from two 14-point deficits to beat Valencia of Valencia, 41-35, in a CIF-Southern Section Division 2 semifinal game at home.

Brandon Reaves caught three touchdown passes from Jack Sears and made a key interception in the third quarter as the Tritons (10-3) advanced to next week’s championship game against Murrieta Valley (11-2), which beat La Habra, 56-42. The date, time and place will be set later, but Murrieta Valley will be the home team.

San Clemente will be making its third straight trip to the finals. But it didn’t look good at halftime, with the Tritons down, 28-14, after losing three fumbles, two by Sears that set up two Valencia touchdowns in the last 50 seconds of the half.

“The first-half turnovers killed us. They’re a very potent offense and you can’t give them three extra opportunities in a short field,” said San Clemente coach Jaime Ortiz.

“The kids were a little tight trying to make plays versus letting things come to them. Once we settled down, the kids did a great job of bouncing back. We get to play one more week.”

San Clemente scored on all five of its second-half possessions, starting with a leaping catch in the back of the end zone by tight end Isaac Rex that made it 28-21.

Valencia (10-3) regained a two-touchdown lead on Aaron Thomas’ 55-yard bomb to Mykael Wright with 2:51 left in the third quarter, but the Vikings would not score again.

Sears hit Reaves with a 70-yard touchdown pass at 1:44, then Reaves picked off a pass and returned it 20 yards to the 10 to set up Tristan Trager’s 23-yard field goal to pull the Tritons within 35-31.

Two sacks forced a Valencia punt from the end zone and San Clemente took its first lead, 38-35, on Sears’ pass to a leaping Chase Berman in the end zone.

The backbreaker was Jack Shippy’s interception in the end zone with 4:53 left after Valencia had driven to the 9. Trager tacked on another field goal with 1:20 left and Jesse Mikulec’s sack on fourth down sealed the win with 30 seconds left.

Thomas hit 17 of 26 passes for 281 yards for Valencia, which was making its 11th semifinals appearance in 21 years of varsity football. Moises Haynes ran for 98 yards on 25 carries.

Sears had little running room (7 yards on 14 carries) and few open receivers against the Valencia defense but hit 15 of 23 passes for 223 yards, six of them to Reaves for 121 yards.

“They played much better in the second half,” said Valencia coach Larry Muir. “Good teams do that. Their backs were against the ropes, and they came out and stepped up their intensity and we didn't quite match it.”

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