In a game that featured five scoring plays of 49 yards or more, it was the La Habra High School football team's inability to execute a punt in the third quarter that cost the Highlanders a victory.
El Modena took advantage of a poor La Habra center snap that resulted in a short punt by Matt Moreno to score the go-ahead touchdown in a 28-23 nonleague victory Friday night at La Habra High.
El Modena overcame a 23-14 deficit in the second half when quarterback Jose Prado scored two touchdowns, including the winning score on a three-yard run. Prado's short run came after Moreno had problems fielding a poor snap in his end zone and hurriedly kicked the ball out of bounds at his own six.
Three plays later, Prado scored on a sneak that gave El Modena the game's final score. Prado finished with 50 yards rushing in 12 carries. He also completed nine of 19 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown.
"I think Jose is going to surprise a lot of people this year," said El Modena Coach Bill Backstrom. "He's a very shifty runner who makes things happen, and he has really improved his passing game."
La Habra's poor punting game also was responsible for El Modena's first touchdown in the first quarter. El Modena outside linebacker Gavin Brown blocked Moreno's punt attempt on the fourth play of the game, giving El Modena a first down at La Habra's 17-yard line.
Prado then threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jay Montano for an early lead, 6-0.
It was the start of some big things to come; the teams combined for five touchdowns of 49 yards or more.
The big plays included:
--An 85-yard touchdown run by La Habra tailback Jason Johnson for the Highlanders' first score. Johnson, who rushed for 1,269 yards as a junior last year, finished with 126 yards in 18 carries.
--A 90-yard kickoff return by El Modena's Tom Mazzone, following Johnson's run as the teams combined for 175 yards in about 10 seconds.
--A 49-yard pass play from La Habra quarterback Grant Mitchell to wide receiver Steve Busch. Busch made several acrobatic catches and finished with 105 yards in four receptions.
--An 85-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to tight end Dionisio Reynoso in the third quarter. Reynoso, a 195-pound senior, lumbered most of the way to the end zone with eight seconds left in the third quarter.
--A 61-yard run by Prado with 4:14 remaining in the third quarter in which he outran the entire La Habra secondary. Prado's run capped an impressive game by El Modena's offense, but the Vanguards still need some work before becoming one of Orange County's top 10 teams.
"We had some breakdowns in the secondary that cost us, but we're going to get better," Backstrom said.