Junior running back Jacob Furnari had a jaw-dropping video game-like performance, rushing for 260 yards on 40 carries and scoring four touchdowns to lead El Toro to a 47-41 upset victory over second-seeded La Habra in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section's Southwest Division playoffs Friday night before a standing-room-only crowd at La Habra High.
The third-seeded Chargers (12-1) held a 47-20 lead with 5:56 remaining in the game when La Habra mounted a furious rally, recovering two onsides kicks and scoring three touchdowns in 2:26 to trim its deficit to 47-41, but El Toro recovered the Highlanders' final onside kick attempt to secure their 12th victory in a row.
“That was a tremendous football game,” El Toro's second-year coach Rob Firth said. “It was like a heavyweight prize fight with both teams being knocked to the canvas only to get up and knock the other team down.”
La Habra (9-4), the Freeway League champions who had won four consecutive division titles, came storming out of the gates, scoring two touchdowns to take a 13-0 lead with 4:15 left in the first quarter behind the bruising running of senior Aaron Porter, who finished with 168 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carriers.
“We knew that Porter was a very good player,” Firth said of the No. 15 prospect in California and a four-year varsity player. “But I think that after we went down by 13 points, we made a better effort in trying to contain him.”
After giving up 13 straight points, the Chargers' high-octane offense scored the next 47 in whirlwind fashion to the dismay of the shell-shocked Highlanders.
“We tried to prepare for their no-huddle offense this week,” La Habra's veteran coach, Frank Mazzotta, said. “But there really is no way to prepare for offenses like that. These guys play hurry-up offense the entire game and they just kept their foot on the throttle.”
Charger junior quarterback Connor Manning has been a big key to El Toro’s success the entire season having passed for a county-record 3,997 yards with 35 touchdowns, and his performance Friday night was no different. Manning completed 22 of 42 passes for 374 yards and two touchdowns.
Manning entered Friday's game needing only 88 yards to break Matt Barkley's Orange County record for most passing yards in a season. Barkley, USC's junior quarterback who has earned Heisman Trophy consideration this season, threw for 3,560 yards for Mater Dei in 2007. Former Hart standout Kyle Boller set the Southern Section record for most yards in a season with 4,838 in 1998.
“We knew going into the game that we were going to put up big numbers on offense,” Manning said. “But I don’t think any of us felt that we would have this kind of night.”
Manning’s favorite target Friday was junior wide receiver Blake Murphy, who caught 10 passes for 152 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter that gave the Chargers a 47-13 lead. Murphy finished the regular season with 51 catches for 613 yards and four touchdowns for the Chargers.
“It’s on to Angel Stadium,” Murphy shouted afterward. “This has been a dream come true for me this season. We have just one more game and we can make some history.”
Sophomore wide receiver Dominic Collins had eight catches for 67 yards, including a 26-yard reception on third down at the end of the game that secured the Chargers' victory. “That was the play of the game,” Firth said. “If we don’t make that play we would have had to punt the ball back to them and they were rolling on offense.”
Junior Cody White had seven catches for 105 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown grab. White has been the leading Charger receiver all season, catching 81 passes for 1,185 yards and 15 touchdowns. “He has been our go-to guy all season,” Firth said. “Anytime we needed a big play this season, he has come through big for us.”
The Sea View League champion Chargers will now face Tustin (10-3), which finished tied for first in the Empire League but entered the playoffs as the league's third-place team because of coin-flips, for the division title. The Tillers defeated neighborhood-rival Foothill, 21-20, in their semifinal game Friday. The championship game is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 10, at Angels Stadium. Kickoff is 2 p.m.
“It’s going to be one game for the CIF title,” Firth said of the upcoming stakes. “This was our goal going into this season, and these guys have been rewarded for all their hard work in the off-season and the effort they have given on the practice field. This is a special moment for all of us."