Through 7 seasons, Katella High School had taken more than its share of lumps playing Esperanza.
Katella had to wait until the last second to finally claim a victory over Esperanza in the Empire League opener for both teams Thursday night.
The Knights withstood a frantic, last-minute drive by Esperanza to win, 14-6, in front of 1,500 in Glover Stadium. And a celebration that had been put on hold while the Aztecs drove to the 2-yard line began in earnest.
“It’s the most important thing that’s happened in the program,” Katella Coach Larry Anderson said. “They (the Katella players) have to realize they can play with anyone. The kids gotta believe.”
To anyone familiar with the Knights’ football program, beating Esperanza would have seemed hard to believe. Katella had 17 consecutive losing seasons until it went 6-4-1 last season.
Esperanza had long been one of Orange County’s top programs, qualifying yearly for the playoffs. And the Aztecs had defeated Katella in all 7 of their Empire League meetings.
Esperanza (4-2) was eighth ranked in this week’s Orange County Sportswriters’ Assn. poll. Katella is 4-1-1.
But for a few anxious moments near the end it looked as if the Knights might blow their big chance.
Leading, 14-6, Katella’s fortunes looked good with Esperanza in possession at the Knight 43 with just 1:40 left. The Aztecs had been sluggish offensively all night, but particularly in the second half.
Quarterback Keith McDonald had 2 passes intercepted, killing drives in the fourth quarter. Lance Brown, the Aztecs’ running back who had gained 63 yards in 12 carries in the first half, couldn’t get going against a tough Knight defense in the second half. He finished with 82 yards in 20 carries, including a 28-yard touchdown run for the Aztecs’ only points.
Facing a fourth and 15 at the Knight 48 with 1:06 left, McDonald threw to tight end Greg Campbell for a first down at the Katella 29.
After an incomplete pass, McDonald threw for an 11-yard gain to Mehdi Mohammadi, then found Brett Richter for another 16 yards and suddenly Esperanza was at the 2 with 33 seconds left.
Two incomplete passes gave Esperanza a third down with 20 seconds left. The Aztecs, with no timeouts left, decided to run. But Brown was trapped for a 1-yard loss and the Aztecs hurriedly lined up to run a fourth-down play.
McDonald’s pass to Jay Sostarich in the end zone sailed over his head just as the gun sounded.
The Knights went ahead for good, 7-6, in the second quarter on Joe Pastorello’s 3-yard run and Brad Wilkinson’s extra point. Pastorello gained 76 yards in 21 carries to lead the Knights.
The Knights boosted their lead to 14-6 on a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dennis Briggs to tight end Aaron Foglesong with 5:13 left in the half.
Anderson called it the “biggest” pass Briggs, a sophomore, had ever thrown.
Foglesong saw it merely as a stepping stone to bigger things later in the season.
“We just proved we’re on our way to a league title,” Foglesong said.