NEWPORT COAST — The game started nearly 20 minutes late Friday night at Sage Hill School.
Visiting Mojave High was having bus problems. Sage Hill Coach J.R. Tolver, also the school's athletic director, pushed back the start time. It was a better alternative for the visiting Mustangs than having their bus break down somewhere in the Mojave Desert.
But once the game started, the Lightning weren't nearly as accommodating to their guests on the field.
Conner Ascher and Taylor Petty each returned interceptions for touchdowns, and Sage Hill used another big rushing night by senior Taylor Ross to earn a 35-24 nonleague win.
Sage Hill, ranked No. 7 in the CIF Southern Section East Valley Division, is 3-0 for the first time since 2007.
"I am extremely, extremely proud of you guys," Tolver told his team after the game. "A thousand percent proud."
The Mustangs (2-1), ranked No. 6 in the Northeast Division, are no slouches. But Sage was extremely opportunistic, intercepting Mojave three times in just 14 pass attempts. Both Ascher and Petty's scores came in the first half.
Sage Hill didn't have the ball much in that first half, recording just three first downs, yet the Lightning were up, 28-10, at halftime. They were opportunistic, taking advantage of a grind-it-out Mojave offense that struggled whenever it tried to pass.
"No doubt about it," Tolver said. "I think that's what football is all about, it's about taking advantage of the plays that you can take advantage of. You get the opportunity to make an interception, you make it. You get an opportunity to strip the ball out, you do it. Don't pass up on those opportunities, because in the long run, that's what going to help you win the ballgame."
Having Ross doesn't hurt either. The senior tailback ripped off his third 200-yard game to open the year, getting there on his final carry in the fourth quarter. He had a touchdown run of 75 yards in the first half and then a 61-yarder in the third quarter, where he appeared to be stopped up near the line of scrimmage but suddenly burst ahead and was gone.
Petty also had a big game. His second interception, with 3:48 left in the game, gave Sage the opportunity to run the clock out. He had previously caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Randall Mycorn with 8:50 left in the first half.
Mojave senior Steele Gainey collapsed on that play, and the Mojave coaching staff said he had a collapsed lung and was having trouble breathing. Gainey was moving while on the ground, but the Newport Beach paramedics were called and he was taken off on a stretcher after about 20 minutes.
Sage Hill 35, Mojave 24
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Mojave – 10 – 0 – 7 – 7 — 24
Sage Hill – 7 – 21 – 0 – 7 — 35
SH – Ascher 35 interception return (Ross kick), 10:10.
M – Arvizu 30 FG, 5:38.
M – Tatum 6 run (Arvizu kick), 0:10.
SH – Petty 20 pass from Mycorn (Ross kick), 8:50.
SH – Petty 30 interception return (Ross kick), 6:59.
SH – Ross 75 run (Ross kick), 3:56.
M – Nelems 40 pass from Carder (Arvizu kick), 5:57.
SH – Ross 61 run (Ross kick), 9:12.
M – Nelems 2 run (Arvizu kick), 6:00.
M – Hill, 6-62.
SH – Ross, 19-204, 2 TDs.
M – Carder 4-11-2, 61, 1 TD.
SH – Mycorn, 5-10-0, 83, 1 TD.
M – Nelems, 1-40, 1 TD.
SH – Petty, 4-55, 1 TD.