February 24, 2024

Up against the winningest program in state bowl history, Mission Viejo added to its own legacy Friday night at Saddleback College, pulling away from De La Salle in the second half for an impressive 27-14 victory in the CIF Division 1-AA game.

It was the Diablos’ second state bowl triumph and first in six seasons under head coach Chad Johnson. It came two weeks after they captured the Southern Section Division 2 crown — their eighth section title and first since the last of their five titles under previous coach Bob Johnson, who piloted them to the Division 1-AA state bowl championship over Bellarmine Prep in 2015.

Mission Viejo stuck with the formula that has worked all season, alternating quarterbacks Luke Fahey and Draiden Trudeau and each threw a touchdown pass to Phillip Bell. Fahey also threw an eight-yard scoring pass to Vance Spafford to put the Diablos up 24-7 late in the third quarter. Trey Tolmaire intercepted a pass to set up the score.

Travis Anderson’s interception at the Diablos’ 29-yard line with two minutes left ended any hope of a De La Salle comeback.

Mission Viejo wide receiver Phillip Bell catches a pass in the end zone over De La Salle defender Ant Dean.

Mission Viejo wide receiver Phillip Bell catches a pass in the end zone over De La Salle defender Ant Dean during the first half of the CIF Division 1-AA state championship bowl game on Friday night at Saddleback College.

(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

“All year long I heard no one believed in our system. Teams were doubting us,” Fahey said. “Draiden and I read all the articles and look at us now. We proved it could work. We’re close friends and it doesn’t matter if he’s doing better or I am, we do it for each other. We win together.”

Added Trudeau, “We’re team-first guys and we’re best friends. We grew really close last year and we’re even closer now. I’ve got his back no matter what. There’s no bad blood between me and Luke. The energy between us flows over each other.”

Toa Fa’avae ran 17 times for 162 yards and completed six of nine passes for De La Salle, winner of 31 consecutive North Coast Section titles. The Spartans dropped to 7-9 in state bowl competition and suffered their fifth straight loss. Coach Justin Alumbaugh is 2-7 in state bowls since 2013, when he succeeded Bob Ladoceur, the most successful coach in California history.

Derrick Blanche scored on a one-yard plunge to cap a 14-play, 80-yard march that pulled the Spartans to within 24-14 early in the fourth quarter.

Michael Salgado-Medina kicked a 22-yard field goal to complete an 11-play, 92-yard march and give the Diablos a 10-7 lead late in the second quarter and added a 36-yarder with 3:31 left in the fourth quarter. A 16-yard run by Fa’avae followed by his 49-yard pass to Jayden Nicholas gave De La Salle a chance to level it but Finn Sepic’s 28-yard field goal try was wide on the final play of the first half.

“We went to halftime knowing we weren’t playing that good,” Diablos wide receiver Dijon Lee said. “We knew we had to be more aggressive so we made a conscious effort to throw more in the second half.”

De La Salle (11-3) scored on its opening possession when Fa’avae sprinted 55 yards untouched on a quarterback draw. Mission Viejo (13-3) answered with Fahey’s 13-yard scoring pass to Bell early in the second quarter.

Mission Viejo's Jack Matranga, Trey Tolmaire, Kane Nolte and Zachary Foeldi gang tackle De La Salle runner Dominic Kelly.

Mission Viejo’s Jack Matranga, Trey Tolmaire, Kane Nolte and Zachary Foeldi gang tackle De La Salle runner Dominic Kelly.

(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

Hinesward Lilomaiava carried the ball 20 times for 87 yards, Bell had six catches for 77 yards and Spafford added six receptions for 60 yards.

Fahey completed 10 of 17 passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns while Trudeau finished eight-of-10 passing for 76 yards. Linebacker Jonavan Asuncion had seven tackles, while Jack Matranga and Anderson each had six.

Asked what he planned to eat for his celebratory postgame meal, Lee said, “Maybe In-N-Out. The combo and milk shake.”

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