Virgen's View: Here comes the big game

This is a football game people were talking about back in the spring.

The hype only escalated when Mario Smith landed at Costa Mesa High in the summer. As the season turned to fall, the buzz continued to intensify.

Now expectations for the Battle for the Bell are at an all-time high.

I've got a feeling that people will talk about the game long afterward, too. I've got a feeling Friday night will be a good night.

There are so many story lines. You want playoff atmosphere? It's here. Actually, it's a championship game at Jim Scott Stadium.

Estancia (7-2) will play against rival Costa Mesa (8-1) for the Orange Coast League title. Both teams enter undefeated in league at 4-0. Both teams are ranked in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division. The Eagles are No. 4, the Mustangs No. 6.

On paper, this just might be the greatest matchup between the rival schools.

Smith has been highly instrumental in Costa Mesa's rise. The senior running back, a transfer from Silverado High in Victorville, has rushed for 1,842 yards and 27 touchdowns on 153 carries. That's 12 yards per carry. He's fresh off a scintillating performance: 359 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns in a wild win at Laguna Beach last week.

The Eagles also have a lead running back who is having a great season. Junior Robert Murtha has 1,363 yards and 12 touchdowns on 181 carries.

Ask them both about their seasons and they will credit their offensive lines, their coaches and their team. They know they could not have gotten this far without their teammates and their leader.

Mike Bargas is on the verge of leading Estancia to its second straight league championship. This was a school more known for basketball in its heyday. Bargas has helped turn around the program.

The Eagles have played a tougher schedule than Costa Mesa, and they have shown to have a stronger defense. So, most are expecting Estancia to win.

Wally Grant, the Mustangs' coach, will have his players wanting to prove the majority wrong. He began his job with the interim title in June. Something tells me that interim tag will be lifted.

The Costa Mesa alumnus has revitalized the Mustangs' program. Even if Costa Mesa loses Friday, the Mustangs know they have had a successful season that won't be over, as they have already clinched a playoff spot.

But this game goes beyond the coaches. It includes family, even the administration, from both schools.

Costa Mesa Principal Phil D'Agostino was the principal at Estancia just two years ago. Estancia Principal Kirk Bauermeister is a Costa Mesa alumnus who was the athletic director and baseball coach for the Mustangs not too long ago.

What about Murtha? His father went to Costa Mesa and his mother graduated from Estancia. He has a cousin, Marcus Hayes, who plays for the Mustangs. Hayes' mother, Noy Blevins, played basketball at Estancia.

Jim Scott, the famed booster of the Costa Mesa schools, would have loved all the story lines, all the hoopla. He died in May. He requested that his memorial, a celebration of his life, take place before the bell football game. He will be remembered during a ceremony in the Estancia boys' gym at 4:30 p.m.

He led the efforts in having the football stadium built at Estancia.

Costa Mesa and Estancia share Jim Scott Stadium. But they won't be sharing an Orange Coast League title. The winner will be taking that.

Sports Editor STEVE VIRGEN can be reached at (714) 966-4616 or

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