MISSION VIEJO — Before his team’s state championship game Friday against Concord De La Salle, Mission Viejo football coach Chad Johnson was asked to identify his team’s unsung unit.
Johnson quickly replied: “The defensive line.”
The defensive line quickly presented what Johnson was talking about in the early moments of Mission Viejo’s 27-14 win over De La Salle in the CIF State Division 1-AA championship game at Saddleback College.
De La Salle’s third play from scrimmage after taking the opening kickoff was a 3-yard loss on a running play, with Diablos defensive linemen Kane Nolte and Jaden Williams making the tackle.
Defensive linemen often tie up the blockers on the opposing offensive line so that others can make the tackles.
Mission Viejo’s safety had back-to-back tackles for loss on second and third downs, forcing De La Salle to punt.
Mission Viejo would score its only first-half touchdown on the ensuing possession to tie the game 7-7.
After that touchdown, Diablos defensive linemen Titus Miller and Damian Coblentz teamed to stop De La Salle quarterback Toa Fa’avae for a 2-yard loss on a third-down play that put the Spartans into another punting situation.
Late in the second quarter Williams and Miller blasted Fa’avae just as Fa’avae released the ball, a third-down incompletion that was followed by a De La Salle punt.
Mission Viejo put together a quick drive that led to Michael Salgado’s 22-yard field goal that gave the Diablos a 10-7 lead.
The Diablos’ defensive front continued its excellent play in the second half.
It’s not the biggest defensive line one will find among Orange County’s top football programs.
“Most people know we’re really not that big up front,” said Coblentz, a senior who is 5-10 and 235 pounds. “So we just fight. We have that dog mentality.
“Every single day, every single lift, every single practice, we just go all out. Because we’re small that’s what we have to do.”
Mission Viejo defensive line coach Chase Moline, an All-Orange County defensive lineman himself at the school during his playing days, said the group makes up for its lack of size with an abundance of determination.
“They do whatever we ask of them,” said Moline. “Their motor is high motor all the time. Obviously we’ve got some serious talent there. Jaden Williams has 17 sacks on the year. There’s Titus inside and Damian Coblentz. (Coblentz) is the undersized one but he plays with the biggest heart.”
Mission Viejo’s Trey Tolmaire made a third-quarter interception, an outstanding leaping grab that was partially the product of a hurried throw by Fa’avae who had Williams and Miller on top of him as he released the ball. The high-arc throw stayed in the air long enough for Tolmaire to make the play.
After Mission Viejo increased its lead to 24-7 on an 8-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Luke Fahey to sophomore receiver Vance Spafford, De La Salle’s first-down play was a running play that lost 2 yards. Williams was in on the tackle.
It continued that way through the final minutes. Williams (6-4, 235), a junior, went into Friday’s game with a team-high 37 tackles for loss. Coblentz was in on 79 tackles and had eight sacks going into the state game.
It takes contributions from all units of a football team to finish 13-3 and win CIF Southern Section, CIF regional and CIF State championships, as Mission Viejo did this season.
That defensive line unit sure made its contribution.