The celebration is on hold. Santa Ana's bid to put Coach Dick Hill into the record books and upset top-ranked Esperanza fell short, 21-9, in front of 2,000 Friday night at Santa Ana Stadium.
A victory would have given Hill an Orange County-record 192 career victories, breaking his tie with former Loara Coach Herb Hill. Santa Ana's Hill (they are not related) will try again at Hawthorne next week.
"I told the kids before the game, I'll be up in the stands next week rooting for him to break the record, but I don't want it to come against me tonight," said Esperanza Coach Gary Meek, who played for Hill at Santa Ana Valley from 1964-66. "I probably respect him as much as my dad. He taught me everything I know about the game."
Hill said his only disappointment rested in Santa Ana's inability to take advantage of the numerous breaks that came its way.
"We didn't come through with the big plays," Hill said. "Those are the types of plays you have to make in a championship season. That's something we'll have to work on.
"We had every opportunity to win. All we had to do was score."
Santa Ana did convert a blocked punt into a second-quarter touchdown and turned a fumbled punt return into a third-quarter field goal. But that was all the Saints' could manage against a swarming Esperanza defense.
Both teams relied heavily on their ground games, with varying results. Santa Ana could only scratch out 70 yards to Esperanza's 218. Santa Ana's Kevin Pola had 55 yards in 11 carries, but missed most of the second half with a leg injury.
Garrick Emry had 125 yards and a 29-yard touchdown run in 19 carries, and Jeff Geete had 101 yards and touchdowns of 12 and 22 yards in 18 carries. Geete's 22-yard weave through the middle of Santa Ana's defense with 1:39 left sealed the victory and kept the Aztecs' No. 1 ranking secure.
Esperanza, which won its 15th consecutive game, including the Division III championship last December, also had some troublesome moments. The impressive rushing statistics were nearly overshadowed by 11 penalties for 106 yards, the blocked punt and the fumbled punt return.
"Penalties just killed us," Meek said. "I don't have too many things in our game plan for third-and-22."
At one point, after two sacks sandwiched around a delay of game penalty, Esperanza faced a third-and-35 at the Santa Ana 45. But Esperanza wriggled out of that mess thanks to a roughing-the-punter penalty, which gave the Aztecs a first down at the Santa Ana 29. On the next play, Emry ran 29 yards for a touchdown.
It was that kind of night.