CIF Southern Section Division 3 football finals breakdown: Corona del Mar seeking revenge on Grace Brethren

Some experts have Corona del Mar (13-0) ranked in the top-20 in the country. The Sea Kings would’ve had a chance at winning playoff games in Division 1. So what are they doing in Division 3?

They’ve just risen so quickly over the past few years under Dan O’Shea, and are still on the ascent. Last year they made the jump to being one of the better teams in California, and now they’re one of the better teams in the country. In fact, they were in the Division 4 championship game a year ago, and they lost to … Grace Brethren.

Corona del Mar still is looking for its first division title as a program at this caliber of competition. Grace Brethren (12-1) has been dominant this season, only losing narrowly to Sierra Canyon. They have several close victories (and not-so-close wins) over very good teams, including Westlake twice, Aquinas, Oaks Christian, Muir, Camarillo, Lawndale, and La Habra.


Star running back Julien Stokes is back, as of last week’s 49-45 thriller over La Habra. Stokes got hurt in late October in the loss to Sierra Canyon, and the Lancers really missed him. With Stokes and Josh Henderson, Grace Brethren has one of the best running back tandems in the Southern Section. Henderson is up to 1,359 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns on the season, and Stokes has 1,233 yards and 16 touchdowns in only 10 games.

The Lancers also have a strong dual-threat QB in Mikey Zele, another major running threat who also has over 1,900 passing yards this season with only three interceptions. Soane Toia is another major threat to run for a touchdown at fullback. Grace favors the run pretty significantly, but with Zele throwing to Nate Bennett, who has more than half of the team’s receiving yards and touchdowns on the season, you can’t just play them for the run. Their big, strong offensive line is a major plus and has been a problem for almost every team they’ve faced.

Grace Brethren is also a strong defensive team with one of the better front sevens around led by ILBs Josh Henderson and Dez Diles, OLBs Cooper Robertson and Isac Garcia, and DL Soane Toia, Jay Toia, and JD Henderson. Their secondary is very good as well led by Bennett, Stokes, Payton Gourley, George Bowers IV, and Luke Stuart.


They’ll need everything they can get on that end to have any chance at slowing CdM down. The Sea Kings are not only 13-0, but have won every game by double-digits. Their point differential is staggering: 593 to 158. Corona del Mar has toppled Palos Verdes, San Clemente, Edison, Cajon, and most recently, Alemany.

They have one of the most prolific passing games in the country led by QB Ethan Garbers, WRs John Humphreys and Bradley Schlom, and TE Mark Redman. Garbers and Redman are committed to Washington, and Humphreys is committed to Stanford – all three are 4-star prospects. Schlom is a 3-star prospect as well.

Their numbers are surreal. Garbers is up to 4,342 passing yards, 62 passing touchdowns, 70.2% completion, seven rushing touchdowns, and only five picks. As for his receivers: 1,705 receiving yards and 28 receiving touchdowns for Humphreys, 1,055 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns as a WR2 for Schlom, and 794 yards and 12 touchdowns for Redman, who also has significant blocking duties as a 6-6, 250-pound tight end. If you sag off too much, CdM will run effectively between Garbers and running back Riley Binnquist, who is yet another option to receive at SB.

Defensively, the most points the Sea Kings have given up this season was 21. CdM doesn’t get a ton of credit or have huge names on the defensive side. But with the fast pace they play at, holding teams like Alemany to 21 or below means you’re doing a lot of things very well on that end. Their secondary has been dominant, comprised of cornerbacks Ryder Haupt and Chandler Fincher, and safeties Zack Green and Tommy Griffin. Their front seven isn’t enormous but they have been unshakeable this year, led by Brock Preston, Cole Rener, Chase Zanck, Connor Brooks, and Kevin Ledezma.

Will Corona del Mar exact revenge for last season’s title game loss? Or will Grace Brethren rise to the occasion again? We’ll find out Friday.

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