Nick Burton needed a quarter to get into sync, then was nearly unstoppable as Costa Mesa High’s football team forced five turnovers Thursday night to turn what might have been a tight contest with La Quinta into a romp.
Burton threw for 329 yards and two scores, both to Alex Jennis, and Chris Fletcher — making his first appearance of the season — picked off two passes, forced a pivotal fumble, then delivered the key block on the visiting Mustangs’ first touchdown to set the tone in a 35-7 rout at Bolsa Grande High.
The victory, more satisfying than the 21-18 thriller two weeks ago against Santiago that ended a 16-game losing streak dating to September 2017, gave Costa Mesa (2-1) multiple victories for just the second time in four seasons.
“This one feels a lot better because we played two solid halves ...,” said Burton, a Marina transfer who completed 24 of 37 throws — 12 in a row over most of the second and third quarters — after hitting on just two of his first eight. “[I needed] to settle down, because it’s my first year as quarterback. And so coach Jimmy [Nolan] slowed everything down for me and made stuff really easy, and I got into a rhythm. And once I get into a rhythm, it’s just playing [catch] pretty much.”
Jennis, one of eight targets to catch passes, had seven receptions for 108 yards, including an 18-yard screen pass to give the Mustangs the advantage with 2:19 to go in the first half and a 13-yarder over the middle to make it 21-0 barely two minutes into the third quarter.
La Quinta (0-3) rushed for 321 yards — four ballcarriers gained at least 50, led by Rolland Crisostomo’s 81 on 13 tries — but fumbled the ball away twice, most damaging on a 36-yard, first-quarter Crisostomo run, with Fletcher prying the ball loose at the Mustangs 10-yard line and Burton collecting it at the one.
“We’ve been looking forward to having Chris back,” Burton said. “And once we got him back, everything has been clicking together, and we felt like we could pretty much do anything.”
Nolan said Fletcher was sidelined after cutting his head on a fall from a mechanical bull just before the season began. Fletcher returned and caught two passes for 19 yards, one on fourth down near midfield on the Mustangs’ first touchdown drive.
“I just tried my best,” Fletcher said. “After I missed two games, I knew I had to come back strong. ... I wanted to show the team the way it’s done. I wanted to impress them.”
The Aztecs turned the ball over in Costa Mesa territory three times in the first quarter, then coughed it up again two plays after Jennis’ first score. Burton then connected with Joe Paxson on a 38-yard gain to the one before pushing into the end zone on the following play.
Fletcher hooked up with Jennis again to start the second half and again, for 38 yards, on the final play of the third quarter to set up the fourth score, a three-yard Burton run, for a 28-0 lead.
La Quinta answered with its only sustained drive, going 65 yards on 11 plays — Kendrick Figueroa ran the final four — and the Mustangs restored the four-touchdown lead on Emanuel Ortega’s 42-yard burst, which provided most of their 61 rushing yards.
Nolan, looking to rebuild a struggling program in his first season, was happy with the win but not his team’s play. He was particularly displeased with the number of players who cramped up late in the game.
“We’re not going to talk about the good things we did, we’re going to talk about the things that we didn’t do good ...,” he said. “We couldn’t be any sloppier. And what I take away from tonight is it’s a Costa Mesa team that’s out of shape. There are things I’m pleased about, but I cannot accept kids not being in shape. I feel embarrassed how many time we were cramping.”
Costa Mesa 35, La Quinta 7
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Costa Mesa 0 – 14 – 7 – 14 — 35
La Quinta 0 – 0 – 0 – 7 — 7
CM – Jennis 18 pass from Burton (Oliver kick), 2:19
CM – Burton 1 run (Oliver kick), 1:25
CM – Jennis 13 pass from Burton (Oliver kick), 9:57
CM – Burton 2 run (Oliver kick), 10:25
LQ – Figueroa 4 run (Guzman kick), 4:15
CM – Ortega 42 run (Guzman kick), 2:40
CM – Ortega, 1-42, 1 TD.
LQ – Crisostomo, 13-81.
CM – Burton, 24-37-1, 329, 2 TDs.
LQ – Rumble, 2-8-1, 26.
CM – Jennis, 7-108, 2 TDs.
LQ – Clark, 2-26.
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