GARDEN GROVE - It was at this time a year ago when Garden Grove's football team had long since turned in its equipment after an uncharacteristically down season.
A 4-7 mark left a bad taste in the Argonauts' mouths after a wondrous 2010 campaign that culminated with the school's first CIF-Southern Section football championship.
Talk about getting back up off the mat.
Led by a balanced offensive attack and a stout effort on the defensive side of the ball, Garden Grove (11-2) is back in the Southern Division title game after a convincing 35-21 semifinal-round victory over visiting Laguna Beach.
First-year starting quarterback Angel Martinez was among those who suffered through last season only to grow by leaps and bounds in 2012 to set up a showdown with Corona del Mar next week at Angel Stadium.
"It feels so great," Martinez said. "We practiced so hard and worked hard in the offseason. It shows on the field."
The Argonauts got 177 yards passing and a touchdown throw from Martinez, but they chewed up 312 yards on the ground, much of it coming from C.J. Del Real in the second half against the undersized Breakers.
Laguna Beach (11-1-1) hung tough early as it matched scores twice. A 6-yard run by the Breakers' Nathan Lancaster answered Maze Masoe's 1-yard plunge following a 44-yard pass play from Martinez to Gabriel Carillo.
Del Real's 9-yard touchdown run made it 14-7, but the Breakers answered with a 57-yard scoring play from quarterback Larry Stewart to Robert Clemons III.
Austen Christian scored on a 19-yard run, picking up a key block for a 21-14 Garden Grove lead in the second quarter. And then the Argos' defense forced a Laguna Beach punt.
Martinez connected with the sophomore Christian on a 16-yard scoring pass for a 28-14 lead with 27.9 ticks left before halftime.
"I faked play action, there was a rush and I just scrambled," said Martinez, who completed 12 of 18 passes. "I saw him open and threw it to him. It was perfect."
Garden Grove coach Willy Puga turned to his stable of running back to wear the Breakers down. Del Real, who had a 58-yard run early, finished them off with a 30-yard score in the fourth.
Del Real finished with a game-high 175 yards on 13 carries.
"He was banged up two weeks ago," Puga said. "Last week, he came back and he was a different guy. He's back to his self. He's little and he's got great moves but he doesn't go down."
Laguna Beach coach Michael Churchill said his team did the best it could against a larger and tested Argos squad.
"They were obviously a lot bigger than we were," Churchill said. "We just ran out of gas. They pounded on us. It kind of took its toll.
"I don't think our kids quit. They sure as heck didn't give up."