COSTA MESA — The Costa Mesa High football team was simply unstoppable in the second half of Thursday’s nonleague game against visiting Katella at Jim Scott Stadium.
And it was still just enough to help the Mustangs prevail, 56-42, in a game that defensive coordinators must try to flush from their memory.
The Mustangs were, as it turned out, better at stopping themselves than the Knights’ defense, as two Mesa fumbles, including one at the Katella two-yard line, resulted in half of the Knights’ four defensive “stops.”
Mesa was stuffed on fourth down and had the first half run out to account for the only other times it did not find the end zone.
The hosts (2-1) scored on all five second-half possessions, including an 80-yard kickoff return by senior Mario Smith and a 20-yard interception return by junior Noah JeyaRajah.
The two aforementioned scores came within an 86-second span and gave the Mustangs a 49-36 advantage with 6:54 left in the game.
The two quick-strike touchdowns helped erase a pair of one-play touchdown drives in the first half by the Knights (1-1).
Costa Mesa went 65 yards on eight plays with the second-half kickoff, as Oronde Crenshaw capped the march with a one-yard scoring run. Jake Lux added one of his eight conversion kicks to draw the Mustangs within 29-28.
The ensuing Katella possession resulted in the only punt of the game and after taking over on its own 11, Mesa used eight plays to find paydirt, as Justin Smith bolted 65 yards for the go-ahead score with 3:39 left.
Katella answered with a 15-play, 78-yard procession that put the visitors up, 36-35.
But Mario Smith, who carried 23 times for 184 yards and now has 487 rushing yards in his three-game Mesa career, returned the ensuing kickoff to put the Mustangs ahead for good.
JeyaRajah snatched a would-be screen pass and went untouched into the end zone three plays into Katella’s next possession.
And after the Knights rolled 76 yards on seven plays to pull to within 49-42 with 4:09 left, the Mustangs’ Jake Comer recovered an onside kickoff at the Katella 48-yard line.
Mario Smith did most of the work on the ensuing possession, carrying four times to the 12. Then Crenshaw bulled 12 yards for the capping score with 2:29 left.
Katella, which outlasted the Mustangs last season for a 35-34 overtime triumph, drove to the Mesa eight-yard line before time expired.
Justin Smith, who like Mario Smith transferred into the program from Victorville during the off-season, collected 87 yards on seven rushing attempts.
Senior quarterback Nathan Alvis helped round out a balanced offense, completing 10 of his 14 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
Alvis found Jordan Walden for a 10-yard scoring pass to cap Costa Mesa’s first possession. The left-hander then connected with Trace Curet 20 yards behind the Katella secondary for a 60-yard touchdown toss that tied the score, 14-14, with 9:12 left in the first half.
Walden finished with seven receptions for 64 yards, while Curet, who later hauled in a 35-yard Alvis bomb, had 104 receiving yards on three catches.
Senior Robert Caputo darted for 226 rushing yards on 26 attempts, including touchdown jaunts of 34, 66 and three yards for Katella.
And Katella quarterback Robert Resendez finished with 188 passing yards, completing 13 of 22 with two interceptions.
Mesa’s Oscar Reyes and Marcus Hayes combined to halt Caputo for an eight-yard loss on fourth-and-two midway through the third period.
The Mustangs’ Rudy Aguirre had a fourth-down tackle to halt Katella’s first possession and Justin Smith intercepted at his own 20 to turn away the Knights’ final possession of the first half.
Costa Mesa 56, Katella 42
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Katella 14 – 15 – 0 – 13 — 42
Costa Mesa 7 – 14 – 14 – 21— 56
CM – Walden 10 run pass from Alvis (Lux kick), 7:15.
Kat – Caputo 34 run (Resensez kick), 4:10.
Kat – Caputo 66 run (Resendez kick), 0:00.
CM – Curet 60 pass from Alvis (Lux kick), 9:12.
CM – M. Smith 65 run (Lux kick), 5:49.
Kat – Resendez 1 run (Resendez run), 0:49.
Kat – Jackson 49 pass from Resendez (Resendez kick), 0:37.
CM – Crenshaw 1 run (Lux kick), 8:43.
CM – J. Smith 65 run (Lux kick), 3:39.
Kat – Caputo 3 run (Resendez kick), 8:34.
CM – M. Smith 80 kickoff return (Lux kick), 8:20.
CM – JeyaRajah 20 interception return (Lux kick), 6:54.
Kat – Zeron 22 run (kick blocked), 4:09.
CM – Crenshaw 12 run (Lux kick), 2:29.
Kat – Caputo, 26-226, 3 TDs.
CM – M. Smith, 23-184, 1 TD; J. Smith, 7-87, 1 TD; Crenshaw, 2-13, 2 TDs.
Kat – Resendez, 13-22-2, 188, 1 TD.
CM – Alvis, 10-14-0, 168, 2 TDs.
Kat – Jackson, 3-76, 1 TD.
CM – Walden, 7-64, 1 TD; Curet, 3-104, 1 TD.