May 19, 2024

If you’re wondering how to know you’re attending a football playoff game between public schools, just find out what the coaches were doing all day Friday.

“This is how we make our money,” Palos Verdes coach Guy Gardner said about teaching five classes of world history and U.S. history.

Standing across the field was Chad Johnson of Mission Viejo. He taught U.S. history from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with his lesson plan on the Progressive Era and “how Teddy Roosevelt ran against William Howard Taft, splitting the Republican vote and allowing Woodrow Wilson to win the presidency.”

Good teachers make good coaches, which helps explain why No. 13-seeded Palos Verdes taking on No. 4 Mission Viejo in an opening game of the Southern Section Division 2 playoffs was going to feature well-trained teenagers refusing to go home without giving it their all.

Mission Viejo (9-2), loaded with outstanding juniors and sophomores and having played much tougher competition, used its past Division 1 playoff experience to come away with a 59-35 victory. Mission Viejo will play host to Oaks Christian in the quarterfinals.

It was validation for Johnson’s seasonlong strategy of rotating quarterbacks Luke Fahey and Draiden Trudeau every other series. Each finished with three touchdown passes. Fahey passed for 232 yards and Trudeau 122.

Rotating quarterbacks is what Corona Centennial pulled off when it won the Division 1 title in 2014. And it worked to perfection for Mission Viejo against Palos Verdes in the first half. Fahey had a three-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Bell, and Trudeau threw touchdown passes of 40 and 13 yards to Vance Spafford for a 24-7 halftime lead.

“Oh, it’s working,” Trudeau said. “Fifty-nine points tonight. Fifty-two last week. We’re great friends off the field.”

The star offensive player for the Diablos was Spafford, who had three touchdown receptions and finished with six catches for 174 yards.

“He’s a 4.4 40 guy,” Trudeau said of Spafford. “He’s going to be special.”

It’s part of playoff tradition that coaches tell their players that mistakes made during the season because of inexperience shouldn’t be repeated.

“After this week, you’re not sophomores anymore,” Johnson told players. “You’re juniors. You’ve played 10 games. We’re done making those sophomore mistakes. The excuses of being young, that’s over. We need to be mature and play like upperclassmen.”

That’s what the Diablos looked like early with Fahey, a sophomore, passing to Bell, a junior, and Spafford, a sophomore, catching touchdown passes from Trudeau, a junior. And there was sophomore defensive lineman Kane Nolte acting like Nick Nolte (think “North Dallas Forty”) in spectacularly dropping a Palos Verdes player for a loss.

Palos Verdes came in 10-0 with quality wins over Edison and Corona del Mar, but the Sea Kings struggled on defense. Yet they kept fighting behind freshman quarterback Ryan Rakowski and senior receiver Luke Gayton.

Rakowski passed for 234 yards. At one point in the third quarter, he connected on four consecutive passes for 173 yards.

“The quarterback is a heck of player,” Trudeau said of Rakowski.

Gayton caught six passes for 184 yards and had touchdown catches of 71 and six yards. He also returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.

“We played our hearts out. We left everything on the field,” Gayton said.

Long after the conclusion, Palos Verdes players were hugging each other on the field saying goodbyes. Standout senior lineman Carson Moore embraced Gardner.

“Coach,” he said as a tear dropped from his right eye. “Love you. Thank you.”

One team’s season is over and the other team keeps playing. Lessons learned and lessons passed on by two public school history teachers with night jobs as football coaches.


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