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HUNTINGTON BEACH — A thrilling, one-handed catch. Two victories against a future opponent this fall. Plenty of clutch receptions. And celebratory flips by players after the final game.
El Toro played the Surf City Passing Tournament on Saturday with the exuberance of a football team hungry to rebound from a disappointing season.
So when the Chargers capped the day with a 26-6 victory against Western in the finals at Huntington Beach High, they celebrated wildly before focusing on their larger goals for the fast-approaching season.
El Toro is aiming for a “comeback season” after finishing 2-8 in 2022.
“We didn’t have the year we wanted last year,” El Toro quarterback Ben Armendariz said. “This year, (we want) to prove everyone wrong. That’s the kind of team we are. They all doubt us. They all under-estimate us. We just come out and play our game, and no team can keep up with us.”
That was the case on Saturday.
El Toro finished 6-0 to claim their first passing title under fourth-year coach Randall Reynoso.
“We finally had enough gas in the tank to finish one of these off,” Reynoso said. “We practice early mornings. We’re grinding in the morning, so it’s nice to get this result so they can feel the fruits of their labor.”
Armendariz, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior, showed a strong and accurate arm in leading El Toro. But most of all, he displayed the poise of a second-year starter.
“He’s got the reins and he did well today,” Reynoso said of Armendariz, who transferred to El Toro from Tustin. “He’s not forcing (the ball to receivers) … (and he’s) making good decisions.’”
👀El Toro playing w/ energy and making catches pic.twitter.com/uNysKr0pRH
— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) July 22, 2023
Armendariz’s group of emerging receivers included seniors Mekhi Mitchell, Shane Stocker, Cody LeCompte and Josh Dinh, and junior tight end Robert Calugar.
It’s not the tallest cast of wide receivers but they’re gritty.
A few of the wide outs also played defensive back.
“They’re tough,” Armendariz said. “A lot of teams under-estimate our receivers. They may be small but they’re super quick. They run great routes and have great hands.”
Stocker highlighted the afternoon playoffs with a one-handed catch in the semifinals against Downey. He also played safety.
LeCompte, who also plays corner, injured his finger in the semifinals but continued on defense in the final.
Sophomore safety Makya Chee helped pace El Toro’s defense in the final with an interception.
The Chargers also beat Western 24-19 in pool play.
The schools will play at Western on Sept. 1.
“They’re really good,” Armendariz said of the Pioneers. “It’s going to be a real good game.”
El Toro rallied in the quarterfinals to beat Charter Oak, the squad that knocked off the Chargers in the semifinals last year at Huntington Beach.
Reynoso cautioned his players after the tournament that their work isn’t over. There’s more character development and goals to achieve, he said.
“We’re trying to have a comeback year,” Armendariz said. “This means a lot but we need to work hard in practice with the pads on and get ready for Week 0.”
The Chargers open by playing host to Tustin on Aug. 18.
Western wide receiver/cornerback Quimari Shemwell (6-0, 175) was one of the breakout performers of the tournament.
The senior caught long touchdowns from Anthony Luna and grabbed multiple interceptions to help the Pioneers reach the tournament final for the first time.
“Quimari was the guy today,” Western coach Dan Davidson said. “We was pretty spectacular.” …
Huntington Beach dominated the linemen competition. Recent Air Force commit Sean Marella of the Oilers capped the title by winning the hot dog eating contest. …
Freshman quarterback Brady Edmunds (6-5, 210) helped Huntington Beach reach the quarterfinals of the passing tournament, his first since joining the program July 5.
“I felt really good today,” Edmunds said. “I’m just getting connected with my receivers and (learning) to play at a high school level.”
Edmunds holds offers from Arizona State, Connecticut and Miami of Ohio. …
Foothill senior quarterback Nicholas Miali (6-6, 210) helped the Knights reach the semifinals, where they fell to Western.
“He’s had a great offseason,” Knights coach Doug Case said of the two-year starter. “He’s looks the part, and now he’s playing the part. We’re excited for the season.”
Foothill played without leading receiver Tyler Hawkins, who is concentrating on baseball, Case said. But Miali connected well with junior Nico Mancini and senior Connor Pietras among others.
Pietras and senior Will May are back after suffering season-ending leg injuries during a collision on the first day of practice in helmets last season.