Position by position: Estancia looks to three-peat

You cannot blame the Estancia High football team for thinking three-peat.

Sure, the program has never won three straight league championships, but the Eagles are primed to defend the Orange Coast League title for the third year in a row.

They might accomplish the feat by going 5-0 in league again.

No team has been able to beat Estancia in the last 11 league contests. The last one to knock off the Eagles is Laguna Beach, back in 2009.

The Breakers are the one program that can end the Eagles' league winning streak. They, just like Estancia, made the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs last year.

It took six seasons for an Orange Coast League team to advance to the division semifinals. The league had two make it that far, but each failed to get to the title game, losing to Pacific Coast League teams, Estancia to Beckman and Laguna Beach to Corona del Mar.

"They're the top dogs," Estancia Coach Mike Bargas said of the programs from the Pacific Coast League, which has had four teams play for the Southern Division title since the division's inception six years ago.

The Eagles made huge strides last year in the division, winning their first playoff game since 1980. They ended a 10-game losing streak in playoff openers by routing Magnolia, 42-7.

The Eagles then met Woodbridge, a Pacific Coast League team, in the quarterfinals, and pulled off a 10-7 win. The triumph marked the first time Estancia won back-to-back games in the same postseason.

What prepared Estancia for the matchup with Woodbridge were three nonleague games against Pacific Coast League teams. The Eagles beat just one of the three, Northwood, 43-27. The win stopped a 15-game losing streak against opponents from the Pacific Coast League.

"That's the only way you're going to get credibility," Bargas said of scheduling games against Pacific Coast League programs.

While the Eagles went perfect in Orange Coast League play last year, they finished 10-3 overall. All three setbacks came against Pacific Coast League teams.

Before Estancia opens its league title defense at home against rival Costa Mesa on Oct. 5, two of the Eagles' final three nonleague opponents are from the Pacific Coast League.

The teams from that league are Irvine and University. The last time the Eagles beat Irvine was 32 years ago. Their last victory against University was 15 years ago.

Here are the players who will try to snap two long losing streaks for Estancia before the program makes a run at a third straight league crown:

Quarterback: Brad Wilson is back as the signal caller for his senior year. Last year, he led the Eagles to their second 10-win season in the program's history.

"He's physically and mentally tougher," Bargas said of the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Wilson, who earned first-team All-Orange Coast League honors after throwing for 1,108 yards and 16 touchdowns, with only four interceptions.

Bargas plans to have Wilson pass more this season to balance out the offense. Under Bargas, the team has pounded the ball.

Backing up Wilson will be either senior Levi Stillman or sophomore Ronnie Urquiza.

Running backs: With seniors Robert Murtha and DeionTe Haywood returning, the Eagles feature arguably the best running back and fullback tandem in the area.

These two will not only run around and past tacklers, but through them as well.

Last year, Murtha amassed an Estancia single-season school record 2,216 yards rushing and he rushed for 20 touchdowns.

Haywood, a 6-3, 215-pounder, clears the way for Murtha, last season's Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team and Orange Coast League Offensive Player of the Year.

Bargas said San Diego State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo are interested in Murtha (5-9, 195 pounds), a two-time All-CIF Southern Section Southern Division member, and Nevada and Colorado are looking at Haywood.

"He was the only guy that never left the football field for us last year," Bargas said of Haywood, who will get more carries this year.

Receivers: Bargas said this group is probably the best in his six years at the school.

Ben Beck, a 6-foot, 160-pound senior, and Stillman (5-11, 135) are expected to start again and make plays. The two have good hands.

There's a new face, sophomore Devon Jackson, a 6-foot, 160-pound transfer from Edison.

Henry Vazquez, a senior, gives the Eagles size at 6-1 and 190 pounds.

Tight end: Three seniors – Alex Haeger (6-2, 190), Matt Jarmacz (6-3, 165) and Dustin Long (5-11, 190) – are competing for the starting job.

Offensive line: Two starters return in senior Adahir Aguilera (6-0, 230), who moves from right guard to left, and senior center Alejandro Lopez (5-9, 205).

"We don't have the bulk [of last year]," said Bargas, who lost 6-6, 310-pound left tackle Zach Bateman, a first-team all-league pick, to graduation. "We have some 280-pound guys, but they're unproven guys."

The rest of group includes senior Kevin Peters (6-3, 260) and junior Osvaldo Villafana (5-11, 275), who are battling for the left tackle spot, and senior right guard Mackenzie Collins (5-10, 225) and junior right tackle Aldo Rodriguez (5-11, 285).

Defensive line: Peters, who earned first-team all-league laurels last season as a junior defensive tackle, highlights the line.

The line lost two standouts, Kevin's brother, Alipa Peters, who shared the Orange Coast League Defensive Player of the Year award after the defensive tackle made 104 tackles as a senior last year, and defensive end Andy Ugalde, the Orange Coast League Lineman of the Year, who recorded 13 sacks and 105 tackles.

Mackenzie takes over inside, with senior Dan Cabrera (5-10, 220) and Rodriguez serving as backups.

The ends are Jarmacz, Haeger and senior Brandon Sii (6-1, 275).

Linebackers: Colby Koste, a 6-foot, 205-pound outside linebacker, looks to stay healthy in his senior season after getting hurt in the first game last season.

He returned in time for league play and received first-team all-league honors after making 77 tackles, despite missing time.

Aguilera starts in the middle with junior Jackson Letterman and Long competing for the other outside linebacker slot.

Secondary: Stillman, a Dream Team and first-team all-league performer last season, returns at cornerback.

Stillman finished with five interceptions, 12 pass break-ups and 17 tackles. On the other side will be Vazquez.

Haywood is the strong safety, while Beck and senior Cole Mensinger are going out for the free safety position.

"It would be fantastic if … Cole was the starting [free safety] because then we focus Ben more on offense," Bargas said.

Special teams: Beck or Murtha will return punts and the two will see time as kick returners, along with Haywood.

Cabrera returns as the kicker and Wilson the punter. Cabrera converted field-goal attempts from 46 and 41 yards last year.

Letterman will handle the long snapper duties.


Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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