Estancia desires next step

Coach Mike Bargas stood on the field last week, victorious, taking the Estancia High football program to new heights. Yes, the Eagles soared into the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section playoffs for the first time.

One reporter, after Estancia edged Woodbridge, 10-7, in the Southern Division quarterfinals at Irvine High, tried to find Bargas. He had no idea who the winning coach was, what he looked like.

In his fifth year in charge of the Eagles, Bargas said people still don't know he's the head coach.

"I have a couple of coaches with snow on the top of their hair," said Bargas, who is 39 and has short, dark hair. "Sometimes they think I'm just the janitor, the equipment man, which is fine by me.

"So it's like, 'Yeah, token fat guy right here, the brown guy.' I'm the head coach, actually, believe it or not. I like it that way because it's not about me."

The more the Eagles win in the postseason, the more people in Orange County will learn how Bargas has turned a mediocre program into a contender.

Bargas and his Eagles are going to be the underdogs Friday, even at home. Fourth-seeded Estancia (10-2) plays top-seeded Beckman (10-2) at Jim Scott Stadium at 7 p.m.

The Eagles must get through a team from the Pacific Coast League for the second straight week to keep their dream season alive.

The Patriots are not only the Pacific Coast League champions, but they have defeated Orange Coast League champion Estancia three times in two years by an average of three touchdowns per game. In the closest contest, Estancia lost at home, 12-10, on Oct. 6, but Beckman played without star running back Jeff Kim.

"He makes a big difference," Bargas said of Kim, who has rushed for 1,244 yards and 22 touchdowns, despite missing three games. "He kicked our butt last year."

Kim ended Estancia's postseason in the first round last year, rushing for 150 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries in a 56-22 rout at Jim Scott Stadium. The Patriots went on to reach the section finale for the first time in their program's history. They lost to Garden Grove, 31-30.

Beckman is a new school compared to Estancia, which began playing varsity football 46 years ago. Until this year, the Eagles had not won a playoff game since 1980 and had never won back-to-back playoff games.

Bargas, who also led the school to its first back-to-back undefeated league championship seasons, has turned around Estancia's program. The offensive line has paved the way, opening holes for tailback Robert Murtha, who has rushed for 3,676 yards and 37 touchdowns in two years.

"Our kids aren't just happy being there," Bargas said. "Our kids are ready to go and win this football game."

The keys to staying in the game against Beckman are slowing down its double-wing offense and forcing the Patriots into third-and-long situations. It won't be easy.

Kim is like no other running back Estancia has faced this year. Against the likes of Costa Mesa's Mario Smith and Laguna Beach's Drake Martinez, the Eagles held those tailbacks to less than 100 yards rushing.

"[Kim's] more physical than [Smith and Martinez] … and he runs hard," Bargas said. "They're the superior team.

"Our kids are … excited that we get a second opportunity to play them."

If the Eagles can pull off the upset, they will set a school record for wins in a season with 11.

A shot at a 12th win is what Bargas wants.

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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