MISSION VIEJO ♦ Capistrano Valley extended its special playoff run Friday thanks to key plays on special teams and a swarming defense.
Adam Gordon returned a punt 31 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and later added an interception as the Cougars defeated visiting Valencia, 26-7, in the second round of the CIF-SS Southwest Division playoffs.
Capistrano Valley’s faithful delivered a standing ovation in the final seconds as the Cougars (9-3) advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 1990. And they took that step by defeating a league champion for a second consecutive week.
“We all believed,” said Gordon, who also caught a 24-yard TD pass from Gavin Pruett and kicked two 30-yard field goals. “After that La Habra win came in (in the first round), we knew we had a special feeling about these playoffs.”
Capistrano Valley, the third-place team from the Sea View League, will play at league champion San Clemente in the semifinals next Friday. The Tritons beat the Cougars, 54-27, in early October. Capistrano Valley used two plays on special teams early in the fourth quarter to put away Empire League champion Valencia (10-2). Leading 16-7, Capistrano Valley employed some trickery on a fourth-and-5 from its 38 to set up Gordon’s punt return.
Capistrano Valley lined up for a first-down attempt but snapped the ball directly to running back/punter Jordan Bocko, who was lined up slightly behind Pruett. The Tigers guarded against the first down and didn’t have a returner for Bocko’s kick, which Trevor Wise downed at the Valencia 1with 10:46 left in the fourth.
The Cougars then forced a punt from the 3 and Gordon fielded the kick on the run and raced to his first punt return TD as the Cougars took a 23-7 lead with 9:45 left. Gordon said the Cougars practice the punt trickery, under special teams coach Roger Biehn, but ran it for the first time. “Capo Valley is based on special teams,” Gordon said.
Capistrano Valley’s defense also delivered a critical stop deep in its territory early in the third. On a fourth-and-1 from the Cougars’ 5, junior defensive tackle Alex Bale recorded a tackle for loss on a rush play to preserve a 16-0 lead.
The play loomed large as Valencia’s Jake Watkins scored on a 26-yard TD reception from Patrick Godoy on a third-and-17 with 2 seconds left in the third, trimming the Cougars’ lead to 16-7.Capistrano Valley held Valencia’s powerful ground attack – averaging 256 yards – to 56 yards and forced three turnovers.
Capistrano Valley led, 16-0, at halftime on the strength on two TD passes by Pruett. The Cougars forced turnovers on Valencia’s first two plays from scrimmage, including a one-handed interception by Wise with 9:36 left in the first quarter. Wise made the grab at the Tigers’ 43 and returned the ball 18 yards.
Pruett capitalized two plays later, tossing a 24-yard TD to Gordon – his 11th on the season – for a 6-0 lead. Capistrano Valley drove for a 30-yard field goal by Gordon for a 9-0 lead with 3:03 left in the first quarter.