COSTA MESA — Coach Wally Grant said before the season started that it takes his Costa Mesa High team a couple of football games to adjust to the competition.
That has been the Mustangs' story for quite some time. Season openers have been an issue for Costa Mesa.
The problems continued for the Mustangs as they started the year with a loss for the 11th straight time. You cannot blame lack of depth for the result, because the team Costa Mesa faced suited up low numbers as well.
Western's 36 performed just enough on offense and the defense took care of the rest. The Pioneers blanked the host Mustangs, 10-0, at Jim Scott Stadium on Friday.
Their coach, Toby Howell, couldn't remember the last time the Pioneers shut out an opponent. You would understand why.
"We haven't won too many games the last couple of years," Howell said.
Western recorded its first shutout in three years and it pulled it off against a team that was an offensive juggernaut last year.
The Mustangs averaged almost 42 points per game back then. They barely gained more than 42 yards on the ground against Western.
A running back with the nickname "Super Mario" used to carry the ball for the Mustangs. Mario Smith put up video-game-type stats as a senior last year, rushing for 2,155 yards and 28 touchdowns.
With Smith gone, it was game over for Costa Mesa when it failed to move the ball.
"The biggest plays we gave up, [the referees] called us for two head shots," Howell said of the 15-yard penalties resulting in automatic first downs for Costa Mesa.
Other than those two first downs, the Mustangs only managed to move the chains on their own twice.
They played without one of their starting linemen, senior left guard Oscar Reyes. Grant said the strongest player on the team broke his ankle before the Mustangs' debut.
Early in the second half, the line lost another lineman, Joseph Quiroz. Grant said his junior right guard rolled his ankle.
The rest of the Costa Mesa offense looked just as gimpy, finishing with 82 total yards. Not much happened in the way of offense.
"They stuffed our running game," said Grant, whose team rushed 24 times for 56 yards.
"We came to a street fight with a knife and they had guns."
The Pioneers had the best chance to strike first.
They got the ball first and they ran on 12 straight plays, getting near the Mustangs' red zone. Faced with its second fourth-and-two situation on the drive, Western decided to go for it.
The move didn't work the second time around.
Marco Zalpa, a defensive lineman, stuffed the run and the Mustangs took over on downs just inside their 20-yard line. The offense couldn't do much, going three-and-out.
That turned out to be the theme for Costa Mesa in the first half. Four times the Mustangs punted the ball. They went into halftime down, 7-0, and with little to show on offense, just two first downs.
On one play, Western's offense almost doubled the Mustangs' production in the first half. The play turned out to be the game's only touchdown.
The Pioneers, who kept running Lafaele Masaniai (91 yards on 14 carries), Kyle Manliguis (53 yards on 16 carries) and Alex Ojelabi (42 yards on 12 carries) inside, went wide on third-and-one. They ran a reverse play for running back Loc Nguyen and he raced to the left, toward Western's sideline.
No one seemed to be able to get a hand on Nguyen, until he reached the 25, where he cut inside and sped past the last would-be tackler for a 55-yard touchdown.
Three and a half minutes into the second quarter, Western led, 7-0. Howell said Nguyen broke his foot a couple of plays later, but his score was all the Pioneers needed.
The deficit was too big for Costa Mesa to overcome.
Western 10, Costa Mesa 0
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Western 0 – 7 – 3 – 0 – 10
Costa Mesa 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0
W – Nguyen 55 run (Alamia kick), 7:31.
W – Alamia 35 FG, 2:29.
W – L. Masaniai, 14-91
CM – Smith, 14-26.
W – Zarate, 0-1-0, 0.
CM – JeyaRajah, 4-8-0, 26.
W – None.
CM – Traylor, 4-26.