No. 17 San Clemente had its starting QB Sean Donnelly back from the injured list and was looking to give El Toro, ranked No. 6 in the county and No. 22 in the state, a rude welcome back to the South Coast League on Thursday night at Trabuco Hills High.
It looked like the Tritons might do just that when they jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Donnelly struck with a 21-yard TD pass to Sam Darnold. Then Kelsey Benoit picked off El Toro QB Conner Manning and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown seven seconds later to make it 14-0 Tritons.
San Clemente was bigger and more physical and was pushing the Chargers around in the trenches early on.
But then Manning got El Toro’s no-huddle offense humming. San Clemente was no longer able to take advantage of its size as Manning picked the Tritons apart with three-step drops and quick passes to his sure-handed receivers.
The two teams started trading touchdowns, but San Clemente couldn’t keep up with El Toro’s frenzied pace.
San Clemente has at least seven two-way starters and they were worn down by the second half when El Toro started to pull away.
It will be interesting to see how El Toro does against teams such as Mission Viejo and Tesoro. The Diablos and Titans are both big and physical, but they are both much deeper than San Clemente.
Manning was 27 of 37 for 349 yards and three TDs against the Tritons. He did have two interceptions returned for TDs. (Read the game story.)
Sure, El Toro played a soft nonleague schedule (some said it was a little cupcake and tomato can heavy), but South Coast League teams better start realizing than Manning and the Chargers are for real.
THE THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL MADNESS STUDS: