BUENA PARK — Driving the ball down the field was not a problem Friday night for the Costa Mesa High football team.
The Mustangs repeatedly did it in the first half in their season opener. If it wasn't senior running back Mario Smith moving the chains, it was senior quarterback Nathan Alvis finding his favorite targets, Jordan Walden and Trace Curet.
The drives stalled, though, and host Buena Park pulled away for a 34-13 nonleague victory. Costa Mesa still has not won a season opener since 2001.
Two fumbles in the second half hurt the Mustangs' chances. First-year head coach Wally Grant only blamed himself for the loss.
"The kids have been working their butts off, the coaches have been working their butts off, and I did a bad job of calling the game tonight," Grant said. "But I'm extremely proud of my kids. We're going to get tougher, we're going to get stronger and we're going to turn this ship around."
Buena Park junior running back Hakeem Williams repeatedly hurt Costa Mesa, which has now lost to the Coyotes for the second straight year in the opener. Williams had just 33 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but he found other ways to get into the end zone.
Three times in the game he caught screen passes from Buena Park senior quarterback J.J. Christy. The plays went for 61, 70 and 35 yards, respectively, and the last two receptions in the second half resulted in touchdowns.
The inability to tackle made things tough on the Mustangs, who were down just 13-6 at halftime.
"They have some good athletes, and they had a couple better athletes than we did tonight," Grant said. "They got them in space, and they did a good job of making us look silly sometimes. But I loved the way my kids competed. We didn't quit."
Alvis' five-yard touchdown pass to an open Jake Comer in the back of the end zone cut Buena Park's lead to 20-13 in the third quarter. But the Coyotes used two scrambles for first downs on their next drive by Christy to set up Williams' two-yard touchdown run that pushed the lead back to two touchdowns late in the quarter.
It took the Mustangs two plays after that to fumble for the second time in the game. Buena Park got the ball at the Mustangs' 45-yard line and six plays later, Williams was in the end zone for the final time.
The Mustangs dominated time of possession in the first half, but largely couldn't capitalize after Smith's 14-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the game.
Jake Lux seemingly made a 42-yard field goal early in the second quarter, but Grant was penalized roughing the Buena Park kicker on the play to give the Mustangs an automatic first down. It backfired soon after, however, when a shorter, 25-yard field goal went wide left.
A nearly seven-minute drive in the second quarter also came up empty, even after Mesa drove the ball to the Buena Park five-yard line. On fourth and three, a short pass to the left was broken up by the Coyotes' Juan Ramirez.
"The rookie coach didn't do a good job of making some calls down in the red zone," Grant said, continuing to take the blame. "… We've been harping on we score inside the 10 [yard-line], and we'll get that mantra down."