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PAUL RODRIGUEZ, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Corona del Mar's Chris Johnstone is brought down by Garden Grove's Danny Ocampo, top, Simaj Bilal, bottom, Mauricio Sanchez, right, in Saturday's CIF-SS Southern Championship game at Angel Stadium. Corona del Mar beat Garden Grove 35-10.

After defeat, Garden Grove vows to come stronger

FOR OCVARSITY.COM

ANAHEIM – For the second time in three years, Garden Grove coach Willy Puga stood atop a makeshift podium at the conclusion of a CIF-SS Southern Division championship game to accept a CIF plaque.

Although this season's plaque read "Runner-Up," it's quite clear that Puga's future with the Argonauts will likely hold many more postgame trips to those makeshift podiums.

"Our kids are going to come back hungrier next year," he said. "We got back (to the championship game), but we're not satisfied with just getting back. ... We expect to be here."

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What Garden Grove lost in Saturday's 35-10 loss to Corona del Mar (12-2) at Angel Stadium, it gained in momentum for a program that has thrived with Puga at the helm.

"It took a lot of hard work to get back, but we have numbers at all levels of the program; guys who want to play football," said Puga. "All our kids want to work through the offseason to prepare for 14 games."

After inheriting a Garden Grove roster ripe with playmakers in 2010, Puga one-upped his predecessors by claiming the school's first CIF title in his inaugural season as the Argonauts' head coach.

Puga, who has also coached at Los Alamitos, Fountain Valley and Golden West College, was subsequently named CIF-SS Coach of the Year.

"We've always felt like we're a high-caliber team," he said, "not only in our division, but in the county."

Since taking over the reins three years ago, Puga has amassed an overall record of 28-11, two Garden Grove League titles (both undefeated), three consecutive playoffs berths and a pair of championship game appearances.

Most notably, however, Garden Grove (11-3) bounced back from last year's rough 4-7 campaign — and ensuing first-round postseason exit — to return to the season's final game.

"We stayed healthy this year and played injury-free," Puga said. "We have a lot of good players on this team; it's not one guy. Our heads are down right now, but we'll bounce back."


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