It was a typical first game of the season: the team ranked in preseason poll gets edged by a bunch of players who were supposed to fade out of sight in their league.
The major ingredients included: Valencia High School’s Andy Ruscitto second-quarter touchdown reception and his missed extra-point kick; the two interceptions of Tiger quarterback Jeff Martinez; Westminster’s fourth-quarter touchdown, and Ruscitto’s missed 23-yard field goal with 10 seconds left.
Voila, an upset. Westminster 7, Valencia 6.
With the season just under way, the final score put an end to all the speculation that Valencia would waltz, undefeated, through its not-so-tough schedule.
It wasn’t because Valencia running back Ray Pallares wasn’t in good health. He played, adding 98 yards to his quest of the county all-time rushing record. He needs 755 yards to overcome Myron White’s Orange County career record.
Indeed, the Valencia rushing game went marvelously well, as Coach Mike Marrujo unveiled an exciting complement to Pallares in Tony Goulet, a 6-foot 2-inch, 205-pound running back.
The junior did everything but sing in order to help ease the burden on Pallares’ shoulders. While Pallares was averaging just 3.6 yards a carry, Goulet gained 85 yards on 14 carries, a six-yard average, which went far to keep the Lion defenders guessing.
Valencia’s offense moved up and down the field at will in the first half, gaining 132 yards on the ground to the Lions’ 24 yards. Valencia offensive guard Joel Garten opened big holes for the running backs. But Westminster’s defense, led by linebackers Ray Smith and Mark Smith, stiffened at the 20 yard lines.
On their first drive, Valencia stalled on the Westminster 11. The Lions only managed to control the ball for five plays, however, before Valencia threatened again. The Tigers got a 20-yard punt return from Dwayne De Nolf and a 16-yard run by Goulet, and they were soon back on the Lion nine.
Quarterback Jeff Martinez found Ruscitto open in the left corner of the end zone, and when that pass was completed, so was Valencia’s scoring for the evening. Ruscitto’s kick was no good.
“We looked shabby,” Marrujo said. “We’re not the type of team that can make big errors and turn the ball over and expect to win.”
When Martinez threw his first interception with a minute left in the first half, Westminster suddenly hustled down the field with a 69-yard drive, stopped at the Valencia 21-yard line when the clock ran out.
The Lions big opportunity finally came with 10 minutes left in the game when Goulet fumbled and Westminster’s Mark Smith recovered, a play that left each player physically shaken. Lion quarterback Steve Gulley, who completed 10 of 14 passes for 114 yards, led his team on a 30-yard, 10-play drive.
Westminster’s drive culminated in Gulley’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Danny Saldana, who caught five passes for 60 yards in the game. Todd Weaver’s kick was on target for the winning point.
Valencia still had more than six minutes to come back, but a Martinez pass was intercepted almost immediately by Dean Kontoes. The Tigers got the ball back and Martinez completed a 34-yard pass to Goulet that was tipped into his arms at the Westminster 18 by Kontoes, looking for his second interception.
But the rally and the undefeated season evaporated when Ruscitto’s field goal attempt on third and eight at the 16-yard line went wide right.
“It was a pretty spectacular game,” said Saldana, who also caught a winning touchdown pass to beat Mater Dei last season. “They had a real good running game, but, eventually, we stopped it.”