TaeVeon Le used to be a basketball player at Corona del Mar High. Going for a jump-ball toss is easy for the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder.
The senior showed how to leap for one, and come down with the ball in a football game at El Toro on Friday.
With two defensive backs on him in tight coverage, Le snatched Nathaniel Espinoza’s throw in the end zone midway through the second quarter. Le scored a 28-yard touchdown, and the Sea Kings were on their way to a 39-15 nonleague win.
There’s a reason why Le stopped playing basketball after his sophomore year. His future is in football, and he’s shown it during his three years playing the sport for the Sea Kings.
Le, who has offers to play in college from Iowa State, Boise State, BYU, Colorado State, Air Force, UNLV, Hawaii and Army, added to his CdM all-time receiving touchdown total. He’s at 32, 10 away from the Orange County career record held by Laguna Beach’s Chris Paul.
And it looks as though Le, who finished with six receptions for 136 yards, will be catching balls from one guy now in Espinoza. Well, except for the time CdM tried a trick play and it worked late in the third quarter. On a reverse, receiver Spencer Hook completed a 42-yard pass to Le.
Espinoza got the start at quarterback for the third time this year, and this time he took all of the snaps through the first three quarters. The senior turned in his best performance of the year, completing 24 of 35 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns, and he rushed for a 10-yard touchdown.
Erik Zimmerman, who saw a first-half series in the opener and more time last week, didn’t see any action at quarterback until midway through the fourth. He didn’t need to the way Espinoza threw the ball, hooking up with John Humphreys for a 62-yard touchdown, Hook for a 38-yard touchdown and Le for a 28-yard touchdown.
“The kid can make some plays on his own,” CdM coach Dan O’Shea said of Espinoza, who backed up record-breaker Chase Garbers a year ago. “It’s outside of the scheme sometimes, but the boy is dynamic with his feet and he showed some toughness tonight.
“We got to continue to roll with him.”
Next for Espinoza and the Sea Kings (2-1), ranked No. 5 in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 poll, is another road game, sort of.
They play rival Newport Harbor in the annual Battle of the Bay game at Davidson Field next week. The renovated stadium is home to both the Sea Kings and Sailors, but since this year marks the reopening of it, CdM agreed to let Newport Harbor be the designated home team, despite this being the year the Sea Kings were supposed to host.
“They were very kind and they let us play our first two games [of the year] at home,” O’Shea said of the Sailors.
Wherever the rivalry game has taken place the last four years, CdM has owned it. The Sea Kings are the favorites to win the 56th edition of the Back Bay game, and they are looking to make history by beating Newport Harbor five times in a row for the first time in the series.
The Sea Kings have all the weapons, while Newport Harbor (0-2) is searching for answers.
Humphreys helped CdM on its first two first-quarter scores. He returned a 16-yard punt, setting up Max Casper’s 41-yard field goal midway through the opening quarter.
The best one involved Humphreys breaking free over the middle, ahead of the secondary. He did the scoring this time, as CdM responded to Cooper Jones’ 27-yard touchdown pass to receiver Austin Derrico and his two-point conversion pass to Sam Whipple.
The offensive line gave Espinoza plenty of time to find the 6-5 Humphreys (six catches for 112 yards) inside El Toro’s 20-yard line. He caught it, running into the end zone to complete the 62-yard play. The Sea Kings took a 10-8 lead a couple of minutes before heading into the second quarter.
The Sea Kings appeared on their way to adding to their lead early in the second quarter, but the left-footed Casper pulled a 27-yard field-goal try to the right. Casper had his issues again.
Right after Espinoza spun to his right, avoiding a sack, he launched a jump ball into the end zone. With Le, Espinoza knew he would go get it.
“I saw it up, and I was like, ‘That’s a great ball!’” Le said. “You’re thinking in your mind, ‘It’s either my ball or nobody’s ball.’ All those years of [basketball] training paid off.”
It stayed a one-score game at halftime, with CdM up 16-8, because Casper missed the extra-point attempt.
But it didn’t matter. Casper bounced back with a 42-yard field goal later, and CdM saw J.T. Murphy, a running back, pin El Toro (1-2) inside its five-yard line twice on punts.
Jack Elliot, a defensive back, picked off Jones, and defensive linemen Ethan Jajonie and Jonathan Vicencio each sacked him.
Espinoza stayed on his feet for most of the night, thanks to left tackle Cameron Prudhomme, left guard Colston Chacon, center Sean Owens, right guard Julian Pourdanesh and right tackle Bryan Aceves. In the third quarter, they helped him run for a touchdown, throw for one, and they opened up a hole for Murphy to rush for 12-yard touchdown.
“They believe in me,” Espinoza said. “I’ve been here at CdM for four years, and it’s nice.”
Corona del Mar…….10 6 20 3 — 39
El Toro………………...8 0 0 7 — 15
CdM – Casper 41 FG, 6:02.
ET – Derrico 27 pass from Jones (Whipple pass from Jones), 3:37.
CdM – Humphreys 62 pass from Espinoza (Casper kick), 1:50.
CdM – Le 28 pass from Espinoza (kick failed), 5:45.
CdM – Espinoza 10 run (Casper kick), 6:15.
CdM – Hook 38 pass from Espinoza (kick blocked), 2:09.
CdM – Murphy 12 run (Casper kick), :09.
CdM – Casper 42 FG, 1:56.
ET – Derrico 64 pass from Jones (Freem kick), :41.
CdM – Murphy, 7-35, 1 TD.
ET – Castaneda, 17-42.
CdM – Espinoza, 24-35-0, 364, 3 TDs.
ET – Jones, 18-35-1, 289, 2 TDs.
CdM – Le, 6-136, 1 TD.
ET – Derrico, 5-164, 2 TDs.