COSTA MESA — Thirty years of futility in the playoffs ended for the Estancia High football team on Friday night.
Coach Mike Bargas called the stretch a curse.
Oh, did the Eagles wait a long time for their first postseason win in 31 years. They made it look easy at home, routing Magnolia, 42-7, in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs.
The last time Estancia won a postseason game Coach Mike Bargas was in third grade.
He's all grown up now. In his fifth year in charge, he has turned into quite the leader at Estancia, which snapped an 11-game losing streak in the playoffs.
The fourth-seeded Eagles actually trailed at the start, giving up a touchdown on the game's opening drive. But they weren't about to drop their 11th straight playoff opener.
Once Robert Murtha's motor started going, there was no stopping the running back.
Murtha was on his way to a record-setting evening. On his fifth carry of the game, he broke the Estancia single-season rushing school record of 1,679 yards, which he set last year.
The junior finished with 226 yards and four touchdowns on 26 carries. He can add more yards to his 1,865 total next week, when the Eagles (9-2) play Woodbridge (6-5) at Irvine High in the second round.
Estancia is going to need a better start than the one it displayed against the Sentinels (4-7).
"I don't like the way we played the first half," said Bargas, whose team led, 14-7, at the break "We were playing not to lose. I told the kids at halftime, 'We need to play to win this football game. We're down to 24 minutes.'"
The Sentinels did a good job containing Murtha in the first half, limiting him to 68 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries.
Murtha would have topped 100 yards before halftime if a holding call had not nullified his 38-yard touchdown run. To take their first lead, the Eagles two plays later used a little trickery.
Quarterback Brad Wilson threw a lateral to wide receiver Levi Stillman. The play looked dead as defenders attacked the junior, hitting him three times. Somehow Stillman, all 135 pounds of him, bounced off each tackler and flung a pass to Jazz Hill near the 15-yard line.
Hill was wide open and he completed the 39-yard touchdown pass to break a 7-7 tie with 66 seconds left in the first half.
"We played really tentative," Bargas said of the first two quarters. "I think we were nervous and this curse that this school's had for 31 years was kind of hanging over their heads. I told them, 'There is no tomorrow.'"
In the second half, the Eagles performed as if they wanted to keep their season alive. They opened the third quarter with an eight-play, 63-yard scoring drive.
They ran right at Magnolia six straight times before Wilson hit receiver Ben Beck on a 24-yard play-action pass. The third-down play set the offense up on the opponent's six, and on a toss to the right, Murtha found the end zone.
With a 21-7 lead, Magnolia began to throw more. And the Eagles made them pay by intercepting three passes. Milton Gutierrez picked off the first pass in the third quarter and Sho Watanabe and Alex Rodriguez each recorded a pick in the fourth quarter.
Watanabe's was the most impressive. He is recovering from a broken finger, and he still managed to hold onto the ball, then return the interception 65 yards for a touchdown.
The score wasn't the longest of the night. Murtha broke an 82-yard run down the Magnolia sideline on his final carry of the game.
"They were opening holes that you can drive trucks through," Murtha said of his offensive linemen.
"It's just another step in [becoming] CIF champions. We don't care who we have to go through. We're just going to do whatever we can, whatever it takes to win the game."
The Eagles are confident going into the second round.
They are going to need more than that to beat Woodbridge for the first time in the program's history.
Woodbridge will be the fourth team from the Pacific Coast League Estancia has faced this year. The Eagles beat Northwood, 43-27, and lost to University and Beckman by a combined 10 points.
"That was part of the master plan," Bargas said for scheduling three nonleague games against Pacific Coast League teams. "Hopefully we're ready. We've played the best of the best [the Pacific Coast League has] and now we just get another one of [the league's] best teams.
"We feel we can play with anybody. We believe in our kids."
Bargas now will try to guide Estancia to a first in the program's history, back-to-back playoff wins.
Estancia 42, Magnolia 7
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Magnolia 7 – 0 - 0 - 0 – 7
Estancia 7 – 7 - 14 - 14 – 42
M – Escobar 11 run (Gamino kick), 8:59.
E – Murtha 26 run (Cabrera kick), 0:10.
E – Hill 39 pass from Stillman (Cabrera kick), 1:06.
E – Murtha 6 run (Cabrera kick), 8:19.
E – Murtha 55 run (Cabrera kick), 0:46.
E – Watanabe 65 interception return (Cabrera kick), 9:45.
E – Murtha 82 run (Cabrera kick), 3:44.
M – Escobar, 16-56, 1 TD.
E – Murtha, 26-226, 4 TDs.
M – W. Akbar, 15-25-2, 110.
E – Wilson, 3-10-0, 57.
M – Collins, 4-44.
E – Beck, 2-54.