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Trabuco Hills football embraces underdog mentality heading into playoffs

Mustangs will travel to Long Beach Poly in the first round

Trabuco HIlls junior quarterback Will Burns hands the ball off to running back Troy Riley during a high school football practice in Mission Viejo, Nov. 2, 2021. Trabuco Hills will face Long Beach Poly in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 playoffs. (Ryan Kuhn,

MISSION VIEJO — There were smiles from everyone during Trabuco Hills’ football practice on Tuesday afternoon.

Just last Friday, the Mustangs took down league rival, El Toro.

Two days later they found out they headed to the playoffs. 

But behind those smiles lies determination and focus. 

They know the road will not be an easy one. 

Trabuco Hills will travel to face Long Beach Poly in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 bracket.

“We are underdogs on paper, we are underdogs by perception and we are underdogs by history,” Mustangs coach Mark Nolan said. “Playoffs are just an opportunity.”

Trabuco Hills is coming off of wide array of emotions the last few weeks. 

Two weeks ago, it lost a shootout against Capo Valley.

Last week it won to finish the regular season as Co-Sea View League champs. 

One constant was senior running back Drew Barrett. 

Barrett rushed for 221 yards and five touchdowns in the loss to the Cougars. Apparently that wasn’t enough, so he ran for 290 yards yards the next week. 

Trabuco Hills’ running game has its identity all season but will face a stout Long Beach Poly defense. 

The Jackrabbits have allowed just 20 combined points over their last five games and has allowed just one team over five games to rush for more than 100 yards with senior linebacker Malik Brown anchoring the defense. 

If Trabuco Hills decides to throw the ball, they will have senior wide receiver Cody Davis back healthy.

Davis spent the majority of the season om the sideline after suffering an injury on the third play of the season against Katella. 

 “Getting injured was probably the worst feeling ever,” Davis said. “I was looking forward to my senior season all summer and I caught a 57-yard pass but landed funny.”

Davis had broken his clavicle but returned two weeks ago against Capo Valley. 

His last two games he has averaged 106.5 receiving yards per game wants to prove what he can do against Long Beach Poly’s defense. 

“It’s a real defensive back I’ll be going against,” Davis said with a smile. “I want to see that competition. If you play well against them only good things can come after that.”

Long Beach Poly certainly has a rich football history producing more NFL players than any other high school in the nation and winning CIF titles in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2012. 

Despite the stacked resume, Davis said he likes the position his team is in. 

“I love that people think we are the underdog,” Davis said. “It gives me motivation.”

Trabuco Hills and Long Beach Poly have never met on the football field but that doesn’t matter to Nolan. He knows anything can happen come playoff time. 

“Once you are in the dance, records don’t matter and seeds don’t matter,” Nolan said. “Long Beach Poly is a great team and we are looking forward to playing them.”

Ryan was born and raised in Dana Point went to Dana Hills High School. He graduated from Sacramento State University with a BA in Journalism. Throughout his career as a sports journalist, he has covered high schools, colleges, and professional teams. After working for multiple newspapers in as many states, he came to the conclusion that what he really wanted was to make sure the high schools in his hometown area got the sports coverage they deserved. Follow him on Twitter @rskuhn

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