The Estancia High football team is one step away from winning an outright league title for the first time in 21 years.
Estancia got closer after beating host Calvary Chapel, 48-27, Thursday at Jim Scott Stadium, improving its Orange Coast League record to 4-0.
Estancia closes out the regular season at home Friday against Costa Mesa in the Battle for the Bell rivalry game. With a victory against the Mustangs, Estancia can wrap up its first undefeated league crown since 1989, when the program finished 5-0 in the Sea View League.
Estancia has already clinched the league's No. 1 berth into the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs because it holds the head-to-head edge against Godinez (3-1 in league). Estancia beat the Grizzlies, 42-14, on Oct. 21.
Even if Estancia is upset by Costa Mesa and the Grizzlies beat Calvary Chapel Friday, Coach Mike Bargas' Eagles would share the league title with Godinez. The last time Estancia split the championship was 2007.
A Godinez loss and an Estancia loss, Estancia finishes alone in first place.
**Newport Harbor High announcer Dennis O'Hern was honored for his 45 years as the voice of the Sailors prior to the team's 41-0 victory over Marina on Thursday night.
O'Hern, 69, is a retired history teacher at Newport Harbor. He was given a plaque at the surprise ceremony and received a rousing ovation from the crowd.
"When I first started here in 1965, I had no idea I'd still be doing this 45 years later," O'Hern said.
He said he originally was asked to be a football coach in 1965, but he said no because it would interfere with his hunting and fishing time. But announcing has obviously suited him just fine, and he said he has no plans to hang up his microphone any time soon.
**Corona del Mar High needed a win to clinch at least a tie for the Pacific Coast League championship Friday night, but a date with last-place University prompted a concern from Sea Kings Coach Jason Hitchens about complacency.
"I told [assistant coach] Alex [Solorio] to tell the kids the story about my El Modena team he played on in 1997," Hitchens said before kickoff at Newport Harbor High. "We were in first place in the Century League heading into the final week of the regular season and all we had to do was beat Canyon, which was 0-9, to wrap up the championship. Canyon beats us, 23-0 and instead of getting a home game in the first round of the CIF playoffs, we end up going to Brea Olinda, where we lost [31-11]."
The Sea Kings (7-1-1, 3-0-1 in league), must have heeded the advice, as they scored on their first offensive play and went on to earn a 31-3 triumph. They can wrap up the outright crown with a road win Friday against Beckman.
**The Sage Hill football team used a second-half rally to defeat Brethren Christian, 34-26, on Saturday night at Clark Field in Long Beach. Coach J.R. Tolver said he wasn't surprised, as its Sage's fourth come-from-behind victory of the season.
The Lightning (7-2, 1-1 in league) needed the win. Now, they can clinch second place in league and an automatic berth into the CIF Southern Section East Valley Division playoffs by beating last-place Crean Lutheran on Friday at JSerra.
If Sage would have lost Saturday, it could have finished no better than third in the four-team league and needed an at-large berth. The Lightning, ranked No. 8 in the division, could have made a strong case for such a berth, but Tolver doesn't want to rely on that.
"An at-large berth isn't pretty," Tolver said. "In the East Valley Division, those top 10 teams, they're pretty darn good. You put yourself in a position to get a good seed, play a two or a three seed from a different [league], then you're putting yourself in a position to make a run in the playoffs. If you do it the hard way, not to say that it can't be done, but it's going to be difficult."
**Costa Mesa High may not be able to win the Orange Coast League title, but it still controls its own playoff destiny following Friday night's 21-14 league loss to Laguna Beach. Should the Mustangs (3-6, 2-2 in league) beat cross-town rival Estancia on Friday night, they'd clinch the league's third guaranteed CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoff spot.
But should the Mustangs lose, Coach Jeremy Osso's team will need help. If Calvary Chapel (also 2-2 in league) beats second-place Godinez and Costa Mesa loses, Calvary gets that No. 3 spot. And, should Costa Mesa and Calvary Chapel both lose and Laguna Beach beats last-place Saddleback, there would be a three-way tie that would be resolved via coin flip.
In another scenario – Costa Mesa, Calvary Chapel and Laguna Beach all lose – Costa Mesa would earn the berth. The Southern Division does have a single at-large playoff berth. However, not only is the Orange Coast League extremely unlikely to receive it, but the Mustangs aren't eligible for consideration as they wouldn't have a .500 overall record.
**Estancia sophomore tailback Robert Murtha is on track to break the program's single-season rushing record.
The first-year starter just needs 149 yards to surpass the 1,584-yard mark set by Carlos Mendez in 2007. Murtha is averaging close to 160 yards per game.
Murtha scored four touchdowns on the ground against Calvary Chapel, giving him 16 for the year. He had touchdown runs of 15, 34, 22 and 23 yards.
In the first half, Murtha recorded 189 yards on 24 carries. He was on his way to topping 300 yards for the second straight game and surpassing the school's single-game rushing record of 324 yards until Bargas pulled him with Estancia ahead, 48-0, early in the third quarter.
Murtha, who finished with 211 yards on 27 carries, understood why he left the game.
"We wanted to be good sports," said Murtha, who only played in Estancia's first offensive series of the second half, carrying three times for 22 yards.
After not scoring any points in two losses to Los Alamitos and Edison, Newport Harbor (5-4, 2-2 in league) made up for it against Marina. The Sailors earned their first shutout of the season, and their 41-point margin of victory was the biggest since a 49-0 win over the same Vikings last year.
**Newport Harbor enters the final week of the season alone in third place in the Sunset League, and can clinch a berth into the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division playoffs by defeating Fountain Valley (1-3 in league) on Friday at Huntington Beach High.
Should Fountain Valley defeat Newport Harbor and Huntington Beach (also 1-3 in league) defeat last-place Marina, there would be a three-way tie for third. It would be resolved via coin flips.
The Pac-5 Division has no at-large berths available.
**Estancia has lost two straight to Costa Mesa in the Battle for the Bell.
The Eagles lead the series, 24-18-1.
Tensions ran high at times for both Sage Hill and Brethren Christian. As the Warriors had the ball early in the third quarter, there was plenty of talking back and forth. Finally, the referee forced a player from each side to sit out for four plays.
Brethren Christian ended up trying a field goal, but Sage was called for roughing the kicker to extend the drive. The Lions made it a three-yard rushing touchdown by junior quarterback Sam Franklin, taking a 26-20 lead midway through the third quarter. But it was the last points the home team would score.
Tolver said after the game he had never heard of making a player sit out of the game for a set number of plays.
"I'm going to talk to the [referee] assigner about that," Tolver said. "I'll flip through the rule book, but I've never heard of that before. You know, it's frustrating. On one hand, he did us a favor and turned the other cheek to two kids playing their hearts out, being physical and maybe talking a little too much. On the other hand, you've got to play this game by the book. You've got to let the kids win or lose the game, so that was a little disappointing. I really felt like that was a made-up rule."
**Newport Harbor senior Blair Luchs had the hit of the night against Marina, a punishing shot on a player near the Newport Harbor sideline on a punt return.
The play received plenty of enthusiastic words from junior running back Buzzy Yokoyama, who happened to be standing near the Marina player as he was flattened into the grass. This didn't surprise Luchs.
"[Yokoyama] gets fired up for big hits," Luchs said.
**CdM has scored 267 points this season while giving up just 158. Another 33 points would allow the Sea Kings to reach 300 for the fourth time in the last seven seasons. The Sea Kings scored 361 points on their way to the CIF Southern Section Southern Division semifinals in 2008, coming up just shy of the school single-season record of 366 set by the 1995 team that also reached its division semifinals.
**Sage Hill senior Taylor Ross ran for three touchdowns against Brethren Christian, but the last one was the biggest. His 21-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-two, and subsequent point-after kick, gave the Lightning a 34-26 lead with 2:30 remaining in the game.
Ross ran left out of the Wildcat, though Tolver said the plan was to run up the middle behind senior T.J. Danner.
"I noticed the [cornerback] was kind of cheating in, so I decided to go outside," Ross said with a laugh. "Thank God it worked."
**Osso said he was disappointed in all the penalties called on his team against Laguna Beach. Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach both had nine penalties, but the Breakers' went for "only" 55 yards. The Mustangs' nine penalties, which included five personal fouls, went for 95 yards.
The last one may have hurt the most, as a 48-yard pass from Nathan Alvis to Trace Curet was negated by a false start. That penalty occurred with less than three minutes left, as Mesa was trying to drive for a game-tying touchdown.
**Costa Mesa senior running back/cornerback DaSean Grayson stood out for the Mustangs Friday. Grayson had four carries for 61 yards, including a 41-yard scamper for a touchdown in the second quarter that served as the Mustangs' only offensive points of the game.
Grayson also had kickoff returns of 33 and 31 yards, as well as a 37-yard punt return.
**With a quarterback named (Mitch) Gardner and tailback known as (Erik) Fisher, CdM lines up most of the time in an all-avocation backfield. The quirk is accentuated in the school's program, in which Gardner lists fishing among his hobbies.
Fisher, incidentally, did not have gardening among his four listed hobbies.
The Sea Kings' offense also involves a "color" scheme, with receiver Brent Gray and tight end Aaron White substituting for one another in a handful of sets.
— From staff reports