COSTA MESA — Robert Murtha was on his way to surpassing a running back with the nickname "Runaway" on Thursday night. Murtha then couldn't run at all.
He wasn't catching Binh Tran, the Newport-Mesa career rushing leader. Not with his helmet off, his back to a table near the sideline.
With its best threat out of the game with an injury, Estancia High couldn't do much on offense. The Eagles couldn't run. They couldn't pass.
Yet, the Eagles were just down one possession to Irvine. By the time they managed to put a scoring drive together without their star tailback, Murtha sat up.
Thirty seconds remained when quarterback Brad Wilson hit wide receiver Ben Beck on a 10-yard touchdown pass. All Estancia needed to do was convert a two-point conversion and it pulls even with Irvine.
A mistake ensued. With the ball near the one, a false start penalty on Estancia changed everything. Instead of trying to punch the ball in for two, the offense had to pass.
The Vaqueros broke up a possible game-tying two-point conversion try and held on for a 20-18 road victory. The difference between one team remaining undefeated and the other losing for the first time were breakdowns after three touchdowns.
The Eagles (2-1), ranked No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division, fell apart whenever they attempted an extra-point kick or a two-point conversion. Those two extra-point kicks No. 6 Irvine (3-0) blocked in the second quarter proved costly.
"[The penalties] killed us," said Estancia Coach Mike Bargas, whose team was flagged 11 times, mostly false starts, including one before a PAT was blocked. "That's what killed us at the end."
If Murtha has to miss time with what Bargas called a shin injury, Estancia will be in trouble.
The offense was stagnant without the senior, who finished with 114 yards, most of it coming on a 67-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He went into time halftime with 106 yards on nine carries and his team behind, 17-12.
Murtha rushed eight more times, averaging one yard per carry in the second half, before going down with 65 seconds left in the third quarter. He is 40 yards away from breaking the Newport-Mesa career rushing record of 4,333 yards.
"Murtha was a big part of the game, but we knew we were going to have to throw the ball. They packed in the box," said Bargas, who saw Wilson complete 10 of 32 passes for 117 yards and one touchdown. "It didn't really hurt us that Murtha wasn't in the game. That's not what hurt us. We were undisciplined."
The defense kept the Eagles in the game, giving them a chance to start unbeaten in their first three contests of the season for the first time in 13 years.
The defense intercepted three passes and one led to a score.
Cornerback Levi Stillman picked off a pass and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown. The second-quarter score gave the Eagles a 6-3 lead, their first, but they could've gone up by more. Irvine blocked the first of two extra-point kicks. This was the start of special teams' miscues by the Eagles.
On the ensuing kickoff, Alexander Cliatt burned Estancia. He fielded the ball just inside the 10-yard line before racing in for an 89-yard touchdown.
Just like that, the Vaqueros regained the lead after they returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the second straight week.
With 4:11 left in the first half, Murtha gave Estancia a 12-10 lead by ripping a 67-yard touchdown run. He went left and toward the sideline, no one was going to get him before he found the end zone.
This is when the PA announcer began to tell the home fans of how close Murtha was to making history. He fell short this game and his team fell short of staying perfect.
Irvine 20, Estancia 18
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Irvine 3 – 14 – 3 – 0 – 20
Estancia 0 – 12 – 0 – 6 – 18
Irv – Carter 32 FG, 1:59.
Est – Stillman 73 INT return (kick blocked), 9:22.
Irv – Cliatt 89 kickoff return (Carter kick), 9:08.
Est – Murtha 67 run (kick blocked), 4:11.
Irv – Renteria 4 run (Carter kick), 0:56.
Irv – Carter 35 FG, 9:16.
Est – Beck 10 pass from Wilson (pass failed), 0:30.
Irv – Renteria, 13-74, 1 TD.
Est – Murtha, 17-114, 1 TD.
Irv – Goodman, 9-23-3, 124.
Est – Wilson, 10-32-0, 117, 1 TD.
Irv – Searl, 5-73.
Est – Beck, 4-47, 1 TD.