A couple of forgettable firsts occurred for Tustin High School Thursday night in its game against Irvine.
Playing in front of 2,600 in Irvine Stadium, the Tiller defense allowed its first touchdown of the season. It happened in the second quarter on a two-yard run by Irvine running back Al Diaz. Later in the same quarter, the Tillers fell behind for the first time this season when Vaquero offensive tackle Jeff Kemper fell on a Gary Renteria fumble in the end zone.
Kemper’s recovery was the last time Irvine would score, but it was enough for the Vaqueros to defeat the Tillers, 13-10.
Irvine improved its nonleague record to 3-0, a mark not expected against teams such as Newport Harbor and Tustin on the Vaquero schedule. Irvine Coach Terry Henigan had said Wednesday that the game against the Tillers would prove whether his team’s win over Newport Harbor (36-26 last Friday) was a fluke or if the Vaqueros are a contending team.
After it was over, however, Henigan still wasn’t convinced of his team’s standing.
“I’m happy to just get out of here alive,” Henigan said. “They whipped us up front on the line of scrimmage.”
Lucky for Henigan, his offense, the wing-T he borrowed from Delaware University, relies on quickness and timing, not brute strength. Also lucky for Henigan, the wing-T doesn’t need a quarterback with a great arm. Irvine quarterback Jimmy Raye completed just 1 of 7 passes for 12 yards. Raye is Irvine’s big-play man, and the one pass he completed was significant.
Raye hit running back Renteria with the pass on the 2-yard line. On the next play, Diaz got his touchdown run to tie the score at 7.
Tustin (2-1) had scored first, helped by a call Henigan said he had not seen in 17 years of coaching.
Tustin’s Walt McMahon returned a Bobby Hamelin punt 31 yards. However, on the return, flags were thrown. It appeared to Irvine, Tustin and most in attendance that the call would be clipping, which is a common call on punt returns. The Tustin players went as far as to voluntarily mark off the yards against themselves.
But officials called defensive clipping. Go figure.
The call gave Tustin the ball on the Vaquero 17-yard line. On the Tillers’ first play from scrimmage, fullback Tim Hollinger ran off tackle for 17 yards and the touchdown.
“I couldn’t believe the call,” Henigan said. “We get a call like that, and 12 seconds later we’re down by a touchdown. I thought it was a bad omen.”
But Renteria turned back any horrible fate that awaited Irvine when he intercepted a pass thrown by Tustin quarterback George Menges and returned the ball to the Tiller 11. Two plays later, Renteria got the call on the 2-yard line, and appeared about to go over for the score when the ball popped loose, and Kemper pounced on it in the end zone.