COSTA MESA — Costa Mesa High football coach Jeremy Osso said it was a gut check at halftime that helped his Mustangs flirt with a comeback victory over Santiago Friday night at Estancia High.
But it didn't hurt that the Mustangs regained their heart and soul in the person of senior Tyler Sheffner.
In the end, Mesa came up short in a 26-21 setback that dropped them to 0-2.
Sheffner, who missed the season-opening loss with an ulcer and whom Osso said would not return until next week, entered the nonleague game in the second quarter.
But, just as was the case with his team, it took Sheffner a while to get his legs under him.
Once Sheffner, the leading rusher from last season, found his legs, he nearly hoisted his team on his back in a valiant second-half display.
The 5-foot-9, 159-pounder scored two second-half touchdowns, one on a reception and another on a diving run, and also contributed at defensive end to help halt the visiting Cavaliers' first-half dominance.
After Sheffner's six-yard scoring run shaved what once was a 19-point Santiago lead to just five with 7:02 left, the Mustangs forced consecutive three-and-outs to get two chances at a game-winning touchdown.
But a 54-yard punt pinned the Mustangs at their own 11-yard line with 4:52 left and they produced nothing.
Mesa regained possession on its own 33 with 3:06 remaining and moved to the Santiago 45. But the Cavaliers' fourth sack of the game forced a fumble that defensive end Chris Montes recovered to squelch the Mustangs' comeback dreams.
"It was a gut check," Osso said of the turnaround. "We challenged our players at halftime and told them it was either time to put up or shut up. They did a great job in the second half of putting up."
Santiago (1-0) put up all its points in the first two quarters, scoring on its first four possessions and not punting until the final five minutes of the game. The Cavs had a pair of nine-play touchdown drives and another of 11 plays to nearly double the Mustangs' first-half time of possession.
An 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, after Mesa quarterback Nathan Alvis hit Trace Curet for a 21-yard scoring pass with 4:48 left in the first quarter and the first of three Peter Marquez PATs put the hosts up, 7-6, turned out to be a difference maker.
"If we don't give up that kickoff return, we win," Osso said.
With Sheffner at tailback, Mesa, which had just three first downs and seven rushing yards before halftime, produced touchdown drives of nine and 11 plays to put itself on the verge.
Sheffner hammered away for 42 yards on 10 carries and Alvis finished 10 of 22 passing for 175 yards and two TDs. He also had connections of 47 and 35 yards to Jake Comer that keyed scoring marches.
Santiago 26, Costa Mesa 21
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Santiago 12 – 14 – 0 – 0 — 26
Costa Mesa 7 – 0 – 7 – 7 — 21
Sant – Ceja 1 run (kick failed), 7:28.
CM – Curet 21 pass from Alvis (P. Marquez kick), 4:48.
Sant – Mendoza 86 kickoff return (kick failed), 4:32.
Sant – Espinoza 8 run (Torres pass from Espinoza), 10:37.
CM – Sheffner 10 pass from Alvis (P. Marquez kick), 4:28.
CM – Sheffner 6 run (P. Marquez kick), 7:02.
Sant – Ceja, 28-158, 1 TD.
CM – Sheffner, 10-42, 1 TD.
Sant – Espinoza, 4-7-0, 58.
CM – Alvis, 10-22-0, 175, 2 TDs.
Sant – Culos, 2-31.
CM – Comer,2-82; Curet, 3-33, 1 TD; Sheffner, 2-22, 1 TD.