Defending Big Five Conference champion Riverside Poly High School took advantage of four turnovers and totaled 221 yards rushing to gain a 21-7 victory over Esperanza Friday night at UC Riverside.
The Bears opened a 14-0 lead in the first half and held Esperanza scoreless until the final three minutes to gain their third straight victory of ’85. Esperanza is still looking for its first victory and has lost four straight games over the past two seasons, the last three by identical 21-7 scores.
Veteran Coach Pete Yoder has lost four straight games only once before at Esperanza, but he said this year’s team is much better than his 1983 club that opened the season 0-4-1 and then came on to advance to the semifinals of the Southern Conference playoffs.
“We’ve been playing better teams in the preseason than we did in 1983,” Yoder said. “We’ve had a lot of misfortune in the last three games, but I feel good going into league.”
The Aztecs open Empire League play against Cypress next week and should have a key offensive weapon--tailback Mike Miscione--back in the lineup. Miscione sat out the game against Poly with a ligament pull in his ankle suffered against El Modena last week.
Miscione’s replacement, converted cornerback Don Herrick, had a tough night, losing 2 fumbles and gaining only 39 yards on 13 carries. The Aztecs managed only 81 yards rushing.
That left the offense in the hands of quarterback Greg Beckman, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 158 yards and 1 touchdown. He also threw an interception and was sacked three times.
Poly came into the game with two shutouts and had outscored its opponents by a combined 63-0. The Bears wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, driving 63 yards for a score after defensive back Phillip Moore recovered wide receiver Tim MacNeil’s fumble.
Bear tailback Chris Brantley, a quick runner with some fine moves, set up his team’s second touchdown with a nifty 41-yard run in the second quarter. Brantley eluded three tacklers by shifting gears as he weaved back and forth through the Esperanza secondary.
Poly quarterback Bruce Campbell teamed with fullback Joe Adcock on a 13-yard touchdown play on fourth down that completely fooled the Aztecs for a 14-0 lead. Esperanza boasts a returning secondary that had 19 interceptions last year, but Adcock was all alone in the defensive backfield on the play.
“We didn’t play well defensively in the first half, but I thought we looked pretty sharp in the second half,” Yoder said. “Herrick wasn’t ready to play tailback, but we got going in the second half. I thought we had them on the ropes at the end of the game, but we couldn’t make the big play.”
Esperanza broke Poly’s streak of 11 scoreless quarters in the final period when Beckman connected with wide receiver Enrique Mason on a four-yard touchdown pass with 3:01 left to play. The touchdown was set up by tackle Ray Williams’ fumble recovery at the Poly 18-yard line.
Predictably, Esperanza attempted an onside kick following its touchdown, but a line judge ruled that Dave Cusiter’s kick was touched before it had traveled the necessary 10 yards. Yoder saw it another way.
“The ball went a good one to two feet farther than 10 yards before we jumped on it,” Yoder said.
Despite Yoder’s objections, Poly gained possession at the Aztec 27-yard line and scored a touchdown on the final play of the game. Bear Coach Mike Churchill thought his team was fortunate to win the game.
“Esperanza is a good team that will do well in its league,” Churchill said. “They played some good teams, so that 0-3 record doesn’t mean anything. They’ll be there in the end.”
Which is just what Yoder is hoping.
“I feel good going into the league,” he said. “All three of our preseason games could have gone either way.”