Los Angeles Times

Murtha breaking records

Every time Robert Murtha scores a touchdown, he gets ready to take a blow to the head.

The guy who delivers it is not on the opposing team. He's not even wearing a helmet when he hits Murtha.

But every time Murtha finds the end zone, he seeks out the guy who will head-butt him once he reaches the Estancia High sideline.

That guy is his father, Robert Murtha Sr.

Father and son have head-butted each other 48 times in three years. After seeing his son record his 48th career touchdown on varsity last week, dad took his hat off and grabbed his son's facemask.

He always does those things after a Murtha score and then congratulates him with a head-butt. What follows are encouraging words, but this time dad broke some news.

"You got the record!" the father said after his son's 52-yard touchdown run.

His son didn't even realize he broke the Newport-Mesa career rushing record on that run. The 4,333-yard mark that stood 19 years went down midway through the second quarter on the road against Sonora.

The running back said he was just excited to play again and help the Eagles win again after a two-game skid. After what he went through a couple of weeks ago in a game, you would understand why.

He feared his senior season might be over. While on the turf in front of the home fans, an injured Murtha broke down.

A tackler rolled on top of his right ankle while going down. The problem was his leg bent awkwardly. At this point, running past Costa Mesa tailback Binh Tran's record was the last thing on his mind late in the third quarter against Irvine. Running again this year was.

"As soon as it happened, I heard a pop in my leg," Murtha said. "I was really scared.

"I was like, 'Oh, damn! Is this really happening right now? Did I just really break something?' As soon as it happened, I was just praying to God, 'Please don't let anything be broken.'"

As Murtha left the game, he cried. The pain didn't cause the tears, it was out of fear that his final year was going to end this way, him injured in the third game of the season.

Was he not going to be able lead the program to three straight league titles for the first time or its first CIF Southern Section title game?

The Eagles lost to Irvine, 20-18, that night, but they didn't lose their star player for the rest of the year. At first, Coach Mike Bargas believed it was a shin injury, only to find out Murtha sprained his ankle.

What stung Murtha more was that he had to miss the next game against University. He dressed for the game, only to learn from Bargas that he wasn't playing.

"That was the first game I missed since my second year of Pop Warner," Murtha said. "In seven years, I've played every game. It was tough, but you've just got to roll with what's given to you."

Ice packs and heat pads are what Murtha said he received to bring the swelling down.

Murtha said he treated his ankle a handful of times every night, until he got tired and fell asleep. Bargas still wasn't sure if No. 34 could return against Sonora.

Murtha came back, even though he said he wasn't 100 percent. He said he's closer to being himself and he showed signs in the Eagles' 24-18 win.

On one carry, he recorded almost half of his 105 yards on the night. The play began to the right side, until Murtha cut back inside. Before you knew it, he was gone.

"That's a four- or six-yard play, and because Robert was mature enough [to be patient] and read it, and then he hit the juice when he had to," said Bargas, who didn't start Murtha in the game and limited his carries to 15.

Expect his workload to increase Friday at 7 p.m., when Estancia (3-2), ranked No. 8 in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division, plays host to the 46th edition of the Battle for the Bell game against Costa Mesa (2-3).

Murtha said it's exciting to start Orange Coast League play against the rival school. The game means a lot for both schools and the Murtha family. His father went to Costa Mesa, but he no longer wears green and black.

His dad will be on the Estancia sideline, supporting him as he always does. Murtha, who has 4,398 yards rushing for a career, is 561 yards away from cracking Orange County's all-time top-10 list.

If dad head-butts his son twice against Costa Mesa, that means the younger Murtha has taken down another Newport-Mesa record. Murtha is two touchdowns away from breaking the 49-touchdown mark held by Costa Mesa's Keola Asuega.

"He's been [head-butting me] since Pop Warner," said Murtha, who has 44 rushing touchdowns, two receiving touchdowns and two kickoff returns for touchdowns while on varsity at Estancia. "He still has a good memory, so he can't be doing too badly."


Twitter: @DCPenaloza


Robert Murtha

Born: Jan. 30, 1995

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 5-foot-9

Weight: 195 pounds

Sport: Football

Year: Senior

Coach: Mike Bargas

Favorite food: Chicken

Favorite movie: "Gridiron Gang"

Favorite athletic moment: "Getting my first varsity touchdown [as a sophomore]."

Week in review: Murtha rushed 15 times for 105 yards and one touchdown, surpassing the Newport-Mesa career rushing record of 4,333 yards in the Eagles 24-18 win against Sonora. Murtha now has 4,398 yards for his career.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times