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KEVIN SULLIVAN, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
El Toro quarterback Conner Manning, left, celebrates with Cody White after the Chargers' 41-31 victory over the Tesoro Titans Friday night.

Tricky El Toro rallies to beat No. 4 Tesoro

OCVARSITY.COM

MISSION VIEJO - Sixth-ranked El Toro viewed Friday's South Coast League showdown against No. 4 Tesoro as an opportunity to prove itself.

Consider the Chargers for real.

Conner Manning rallied El Toro from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter and a four-point deficit with less than five minutes left in the fourth to a 41-31 victory at Trabuco Hills.

The record-setting quarterback scored the go-ahead point with 4:54 left in the fourth on an 8-yard touchdown reception from running back Jacob Furnari on a trick play.

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The Utah commit then sealed the victory against the third-ranked team in the Pac-5 Division with a 23-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-8 to Blake Murphy with 1:51 left in the fourth.

El Toro (8-0, 2-0) overcame a career-high 320 yards rushing by Tesoro running back Nate Tago and was stormed by its student body after taking a wild game that featured five lead changes.

"Resolve and resilience, that's what our football team showed," El Toro coach Robert Frith said. "You've got to play 48 minutes, and that's what we did tonight, and we came out on top.

"Take nothing away from Tesoro. That's an excellent program. ... But I guess we're for real."

Defensive back Bryan Chinchilla collected El Toro's third interception with 18 seconds left near his end zone to apply the final touch. El Toro linebacker Sam Travis also had two sacks on the Titans' final possession.

But the signature play of the night was the one El Toro dubbed "Elway", the pass-back to Manning from Furnari.

Tago had scored on a 4-yard TD run with 6:24 left in the fourth quarter for his fourth score and a 31-27 lead for the Titans (6-1, 1-1). But El Toro quickly answered and drove for the go-ahead score. Late in the drive, Furnari broke an 18-yard run to the 8. On second-and-goal, he took a handoff from Manning, ran right and passed back to a wide open Manning to give El Toro a 34-31 lead.

"The offensive coordinator put in the call and I was thinking in my head, are you serious?" said Furnari, who rushed for 149 yards. "We went for it and made it happen, so I couldn't be prouder of my guys.

"I think this establishes us as an elite team. ... It's where we belong. Our team had no doubt that we could come out here and put up a W."

On Tesoro's next possession, El Toro's defense held on a fourth-and-5 from the Titans 25, setting up Manning's fourth TD pass moments later. Manning was hit as he released the pass, like he was a few times earlier in the game.

"On the last touchdown, he was laying down," Frith said of Manning, who was 14 of 27 for 280 yards. "I went out there and told him, 'Hey, some of the greatest passes in the history of football, the quarterback never saw the end of it.'

"That's a true test of a good quarterback - for him to sit in the pocket, make that throw, know he's going to get hit. All he has to do is hear the cheers."

Manning sparked the Chargers in the third. With Tesoro leading, 24-14, he tossed an 84-yard touchdown pass to Murphy on third-and-14 with 7:25 left in the quarter. The point-after missed but El Toro's comeback was on.

El Toro's bend-but-don't-break defense forced three turnovers -- all interceptions. El Toro defensive back Alec Shoffeitt also provided a spark in the third quarter with a diving interception at his 43 with 1:54 left.

Manning then connected on a 23-yard TD pass to a diving Shoffeitt with four seconds left in the third quarter to give the Chargers a 27-24 lead.

El Toro linebacker Andrew Wilson collected the other interception in the first quarter, and it too led to a score. Wilson grabbed an interception at the Tesoro 45 and return the ball 16 yards to 29. The Chargers capitalized with a 6-yard TD run by Furnari, who tied the score, 7-7.

El Toro's offense didn't commit a turnover.

Zach Schottenfeld kicked a 37-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to lift Tesoro to a 17-14 lead.

Tago powered Tesoro in the first half, rushing for 240 yards on 24 carries. He was strong from the beginning. He racked up 77 yards on the Titans' game-opening, 90-yard scoring drive.

He finished the game with a career-high 39 carries.

"That's probably the best running back I've seen in four years here at El Toro," Frith said of Tago. "Nate Tago is an absolute warrior."

But Tesoro hurt itself in both the first and second half with penalties. The Titans finished with 12 penalties for 114 yards.

Tesoro plays host to Mission Viejo next week while El Toro plays Trabuco Hills.


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