By LOU PONSI
GARDEN GROVE - Pacifica beat Valencia at its own game in the final Empire League contest of the season for both teams Thursday night at Garden Grove High.
The Mariners rushed for all of their touchdowns and gained 342 yards on the ground in a 28-23 victory over the run-oriented Tigers, who will enter the playoffs as the Empire League's No. 3 representative.
Pacifica´s victory is its the first against Valencia in the four years the Mariners have been in the Empire League. Pacifica (5-4-1, 4-1) finished in second place and will enter the Southwest Division playoffs as the No. 2 seed from the league.
"Our kids played super hard and got something they wanted," Pacifica´s first-year coach, Marcello Giuliano, said. "Coach Marrujo is an outstanding coach and they (the Tigers) were ready."
Pacifica had to battle back after trailing, 17-14, at the half. The Mariners started from their 20 after receiving the second-half kickoff and drove the 80 yards in 17 plays, running on every down except one. Luther Tolbert capped the seven-minute drive with a 5-yard touchdown run that gave Pacifica a 21-17 lead.
After running well in the first half, the Tigers (4-6, 2-3) were forced to punt on their next two possessions. Pacifica then took over on their 36 with 10:01 left in game.
This time, however, instead of grinding out another long drive, the Mariners struck quickly as Cody Johnson broke through the line for a 67-yard touchdown on the second play.
Valencia made it interesting when Robert Mata connected with Greg Hammond for a 32-yard touchdown, getting the Tigers to within 28-23 with 2:52 left. However, Valencia couldn´t convert a two-point conversion try nor recover the ensuing onside kick.
Here's a look at the Empire League playoff picture:
Cypress (9-1, 5-0): The league championship was wrapped up when Cypress beat Pacifica last week.
Pacifica (5-4-1, 4-1): The Mariners clinched second place with a victory over Valencia on Thursday.
Valencia (4-6, 2-3): The Tigers finished tied for third with Kennedy, but the Tigers own the tiebreaker over the Fighting Irish so they are in as the league's third-place team.
Kennedy (5-5, 2-3): The Fighting Irish are eligible to petition for the Southwest's lone at-large berth.
Loara (5-5, 1-4): The Saxons are eligible to petition for an at-large berth, but they would be a long shot.
Katella (2-8, 1-4): The Knights have been eliminated.