Although his team didn’t win or lose its Sea View League opener against Tustin Friday night, Estancia Coach John Liebengood was, well, just ecstatic over the 13-13 tie his team managed in front of an estimated 2,000 at Newport Harbor High School.
“It was great!” Liebengood said, pumping his fist in the air as if he’d just won the Super Bowl.
“We rose to the occasion! It’s a great moral victory for us! We didn’t win, but we didn’t lose . . . !”
Some might consider a tie as kind of a blase, mediocre finish to a 2 1/2-hour highly intense football battle. Not Liebengood. His Eagles (5-0-1, 0-0-1) haven’t won a Sea View League game in more than 2 years, and Friday night’s tie was, well, if not a victory, at least not a defeat.
Especially if you consider the way Estancia dug itself out of its horrible first half.
By halftime, the Eagles had just 28 yards of total offense, with star running back Josh Wojtkiewicz being held to minus 3 yards in 5 carries. In contrast, Tustin (2-3-1, 0-0-1) had gained 127 yards and led, 10-0.
Tustin gained a 13-0 lead with a 21-yard field goal by Casey Mazzotta with 4:29 remaining in the third quarter, but the Eagles came back immediately.
Led by junior quarterback Dan Ucker, who replaced starter Jeff DeSandro in the third quarter, Estancia found a much higher level of intensity to put together some impressive drives.
Ucker, who finished the game completing 11 of 16 for 129 yards, hit four consecutive passes, driving the Eagles to the Tustin 5-yard line. From there, Dan Patrone ran in for the score. Marco Vazquez missed the extra-point kick, though, and Estancia trailed, 13-6.
The tying touchdown came with 4:02 remaining in the game. Ucker completed 5 straight passes, including the 10-yard scoring pass he threw to Gary Burrows.
Tustin, which scored its 10 first-quarter points on a 39-yard field goal by Mazzotta and a 2-yard run by quarterback Monte Jones, was led by sophomore Visko Ancich, who rushed for 101 yards in 20 carries.
Visko’s father, Tustin Coach Marijon Ancich, was not at all pleased with the Tillers’ performance, especially the 155 yards worth of penalties they accumulated. “We tied ourselves tonight, we did some completely undisciplined things,” he said. “I’m so mad I could punch someone.”