IRVINE — The Estancia High football team practiced on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in 31 years.
Starting next week, the Eagles are going to hang Christmas lights outside of their workout facility. Coach Mike Bargas said his players earned the right to stay in the holiday spirit during the season.
For the first time in the program's history, Estancia has reached the semifinals of the playoffs.
The fourth-seeded Eagles went on the road and rallied to beat Woodbridge, 10-7, in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division quarterfinals at Irvine High on Friday night. The victory in the postseason is the Eagles' second straight, a first for the program.
"We're in uncharted territory," said Bargas, adding that the win shows that Orange Coast League champion Estancia can play with teams from the Pacific Coast League, which has dominated the Southern Division since it began five years ago.
Estancia faces the Pacific Coast League's best team next week. The Eagles (10-2) play host to top-seeded Beckman (10-2) in the semifinals.
The game is a rematch from earlier this season, when the Patriots won the nonleague contest, 12-10. The Eagles made sure they got another shot at Beckman by coming back from a 7-3 deficit in the fourth quarter against Woodbridge.
The Warriors (6-6) never respected the Eagles' passing game, a key reason as to why the game was scoreless at halftime. They stacked the box to contain running back Robert Murtha and it worked for most of the evening as the junior finished with 132 yards on 33 carries.
With the Eagles facing a second-and-14 on Woodbridge's 37 midway through the final quarter, Bargas decided his team needed to take a shot through the air. Quarterback Brad Wilson had completed just three of 12 passes for 14 yards before the offense called another pass play.
There was one wide receiver, Henry Vasquez, Bargas wanted Wilson to target on the play.
"Henry had that look in his eye that he was going to do something big," Bargas said.
Wilson eyed Vasquez, throwing a perfect strike to Vasquez near the Warriors' sideline. Wilson put the ball where it needed to be, away from the closing defensive back.
Vasquez hauled in the pass and sprinted for the end zone, before going down on the six. The 31-yard hook-up put Estancia in the red zone for the first time.
On the next play, Murtha broke a tackle and rumbled in for a six-yard touchdown. Estancia took a 10-7 lead with 5:54 left to play. The way the Eagles' defense performed, it was going to be tough for Woodbridge to score again.
The Eagles' secondary had given up a 91-yard touchdown pass, which gave Woodbridge a 7-3 lead late in the third quarter. But Estancia bottled up Kyle Kelley, the highly-recruited tight end who caught the touchdown, forcing quarterback Matt Callahan to find someone else.
He didn't have enough time. Estancia defensive end Andy Ugalde sacked Callahan on back-to-back plays, leaving the Warriors with a third-and-29 situation on their own 12. Then Callahan threw a ball up for grabs near midfield and cornerback Sho Watanabe intercepted the pass while falling backward.
Watanabe came up with his second interception in the playoffs. The Eagles were 2 minutes, 46 seconds away from making history. They just had to run the clock out.
Wilson iced the game with his feet on third-and-four. Bargas was telling himself on the sideline, "One more first down will kill these guys."
With the Warriors out of timeouts, Wilson took a bootleg to the left, fooling the defense. The junior gained a first down on a 17-yard run, losing his helmet in the process. All that mattered was that he secured the ball.
All that mattered is that the Eagles held on to defeat Woodbridge for the first time. They get to make their semifinal debut next week in front of a home crowd.
CIF Southern Section Southern Division
Estancia 10, Woodbridge 7
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Estancia 0 – 0 - 3 - 7 – 10
Woodbridge 0 – 0 - 7 - 0 – 7
E – Cabrera 43 field goal, 2:28.
W – Kelley 91 pass from Callahan (Jackson kick), 1:02.
E – Murtha 6 run (Cabrera kick), 5:54.
E – Murtha, 33-132, 1 TD.
W – Calderon, 14-60.
E – Wilson, 3-13-0, 45.
W – Callahan, 7-13-2, 156, 1 TD.
E – Vasquez, 2-38.
W – Kelley, 3-130, 1 TD.