A stout defense has had the Estancia High football team a few plays away from being 3-0 early in the season.
But failure to cash in on offense hurt the Eagles again Thursday night at Orange Coast College.
Estancia struggled to finish drives. Santiago couldn’t say the same in the fourth quarter of the nonleague game.
Cavaliers senior quarterback Bernardo Monroy scored the go-ahead touchdown on a one-yard keeper with 2:40 to play, and Santiago went on to the 14-7 victory.
Estancia (1-2) was essentially gifted its only touchdown, after an early turnover by Santiago (2-1). A bad snap on the Cavaliers’ first play from scrimmage was recovered at the Santiago nine by Estancia junior defensive end Cameron Ruehling.
Two plays later, senior Mario Mondragon ran it in for the touchdown and Estancia had the early advantage. But the Eagles had two subsequent drives into Santiago territory in the second quarter that resulted in turnovers on downs.
“The defense did great,” said Estancia coach Mike Bargas, whose team has given up just 31 total points in its first three games and got an interception by Yovani Avila on Thursday. “We should have probably been up 28-7 at the half there, but we hiccuped. What we’ve seen so far is just growing pains. [Sophomore quarterback Cameron] Knickerbocker did a decent job, and the defense did a good job, they kept us in the game and gave us position and opportunities. We’d just break a big one and then stall out. We had a hard time finding the end zone tonight.”
Santiago tied the score on its first drive of the third quarter, as junior running back Derrick Martin’s two-yard touchdown run capped a 12-play, 86-yard drive. The big play was a 48-yard pass from Monroy to Abraham Saldana, who was wide open down the left sideline.
After Estancia’s Gannon Griffin stuffed a third-down run, Santiago went for it on fourth-and-two from its 31 with less than eight minutes remaining in the game. The pass over the middle was broken up by Estancia’s Lucas Pacheco, giving the Eagles great field position.
But the subsequent Estancia pass was intercepted by Santiago’s Adam Reyes, leading to the eventual game-winning drive. Reyes also intercepted an underthrown pass to the left with 1:19 to play, icing the Cavaliers’ win.
“This team has kind of showed us this year that we’re better in the second half,” Santiago coach Brandon Croft said. “We make good adjustments. The kids prepare all week, and that’s been a big difference the last couple of years as we’ve tried to build something here. Their willingness to prepare makes all the difference … and that’s kind of helped us turn the corner a little bit.”
Knickerbocker showed a willingness to air the ball out, completing 13 of 17 passes for 131 yards. Two sizable gains went to junior Tony Valdez, for 23 and 31 yards, respectively.
“We did a good job throwing the ball,” Bargas said. “We’re just having growing pains. We’ve got a 15-year-old out there [at quarterback] who doesn’t have varsity experience. I thought Cameron did a good job. As you gain experience, you’ll complete those. He’ll get there.”
Estancia returns to action when it hosts Ocean View on Sept. 19 at OCC.
“It’s not going to be any easier for us as we go into Ocean View, then Laguna Beach always plays us tough, then we go into [Orange Coast League play],” Bargas said. “Hopefully we can iron out some of those wrinkles. I thought overall we were pretty balanced, it just stinks that we weren’t able to score when we needed to. If we would have scored a couple of touchdowns, we’d be the winners tonight.
“The puzzle pieces are coming together, but we’re not there yet. There’s just too many mistakes. It’s just going to take some time.”
Santiago 14, Estancia 7
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Santiago 0 – 0 – 7 – 7 — 14
Estancia 7 – 0 –0 – 0 — 7
E – Mondragon 4 run (Avila kick), 11:36.
S – Martin 2 run (Saucedo kick), 2:54.
S – Monroy 1 run (Saucedo kick), 2:40.
S – Martin, 24-66, 1 TD.
E – N. Pacheco, 7-36.
S – Monroy, 8-17-1, 151.
E – Knickerbocker, 13-17-2, 131.
S – Saldana, 3-82.
E – T. Valdez, 2-54.
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