Joe Davidson

Del Oro falls short to San Clemente in CIF I-A football title game

San Clemente quarterback Jack Sears is chased out of the pocket by Del Oro’s Trevor Johnson, right, during the CIF State Division I-A championship game at Sacramento State on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif.
San Clemente quarterback Jack Sears is chased out of the pocket by Del Oro’s Trevor Johnson, right, during the CIF State Division I-A championship game at Sacramento State on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. rbenton@sacbee.com

Years from now, players and coaches will remember the journey, the joy of getting back here.

At class reunions or in backyard football functions, Del Oro High School athletes and mentors may not fondly recall the final score from Saturday night at Sacramento State, but they may well mutter in so many words, “Man, we played for a state repeat.”

Del Oro led 17-0 before the wheels started to buckle and then fell off completely amid turnovers and a breakdown in pass protection, allowing San Clemente to stage a 22-17 victory in the CIF State Division I-A championship at Hornet Stadium.

Per the norm, win or lose, Del Oro players hustled to the stands to acknowledge and appreciate students, family and other fans who packed in.

And per his norm, Del Oro senior quarterback Stone Smartt spoke like a champion, wiping away tears to express gratitude to his teammates and coaches, calling them, “my second family” while acknowledging the grit, resolve and skill of San Clemente.

“I love these guys,” Smartt said of his teammates. “It’s been a fun ride. We played our hearts out.”

So did the Tritons of Orange County.

San Clemente (13-3) rallied behind the efforts of USC-bound quarterback Jack Sears, who proved to be difficult to chase down. He fired a 12-yard touchdown pass to Chase Berman with 1 minute, 5 seconds left in the first half to pull his club to within 17-7. Then, with 10 seconds to play in the quarter deep in its own territory, Del Oro snapped the ball over the punter’s head, resulting in a safety, and the momentum flipped to the Tritons.

Brandon Reaves scored on a 1-yard run and a 54-yard punt return in the fourth quarter, and Sears ended Del Oro’s last-gasp effort with an interception in coverage as a free safety to give San Clemente its first CIF State football title.

Two streaks ended for Del Oro (13-3). The Golden Eagles had their regional-record 11-game playoff winning streak halted, a stretch that included winning the CIF State Division II-AA title last season, a 16-13 victory over unbeaten Camarillo. And Del Oro’s 6-0 mark in title games at Sac State this decade is now 6-1, a run that includes five Sac-Joaquin Section banners.

“We couldn’t maintain the momentum and we couldn’t stop theirs,” Del Oro coach Casey Taylor said. “We had a chance in the first half to really put it on them with a big lead but we had the bad snap, a turnover, and then it’s 17-9, and we couldn’t pass-protect well enough in the second half. That’s a credit to San Clemente. They’re a really good team. I’ll miss our seniors. Just a great group, great ambassadors for our school and program.”

Del Oro returned 17 starters this season, players dotted across the lines, in the backfield and the secondary. Camrion Davis was one of them. He had two interceptions on defense and 55 rushing yards. He’s a 4.09 GPA student. Smartt passed for 104 yards, hitting fellow three-year starter Mason Hurst six times for 76 yards, but was sacked four times as the Tritons applied the heat. Smartt is a 4.0 student on a program that sports a 3.4 team GPA.

Dalton Gee rushed for 85 yards for Del Oro, opening the scoring with a 22-yard touchdown. Smartt’s 2-yard keeper made it 14-0, and Conor Calvert’s 26-yard field goal made it 17-0 with 3:50 to go in the half.

“We played a really good team, tough and physical, and it took everything to get back in it and win it,” said Sears, the latest in a long line of San Clemente standout quarterbacks.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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