COSTA MESA — There were few style points Friday night for the Estancia High football team, and no points period on the scoreboard in the first half.
But defensive effort and a large helping of Robert Murtha went a long way for the Eagles in their season opener.
Murtha rushed for 166 yards and a touchdown, and Estancia got an interception return for a touchdown by DeionTe Haywood as the Eagles prevailed, 17-0, over Loara in the nonleague game at Jim Scott Stadium.
And, though the Eagles will take the victory, Coach Mike Bargas clearly did not see the best game from his team, ranked No. 4 in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division poll. Loara is unranked.
"It was an ugly win," Bargas said. "I thought we played sloppy. 'Disorganized' is what word comes to my mind. We didn't pay attention to the fine details, and that might bite us in the butt if we don't clean that up. We didn't have all our regular personnel in there, but that's no excuse."
Estancia was without three of its best players. Bargas said he sat senior receiver-safety Ben Beck, senior lineman Kevin Peters and senior linebacker Colby Koste for unspecified team rules infractions. Beck did get in the game in the second half, returning punts.
"There were some infractions and things like that," Bargas said. "It wasn't anything major, but I'm trying to run a tight ship. There were some obligations that they attended to."
Loara did not oblige the Eagles by rolling over in the first half. In fact, the Saxons had their best scoring chance on their second drive. Behind power runs from senior fullback Max Trillo, the Saxons moved the ball to the Estancia 11-yard line. But, on third-and-four, the Eagles' Matt Jarmacz got a key quarterback sack, and Loara missed the subsequent field goal try.
Estancia sputtered, failing to get the ball past the Loara 30-yard line in the scoreless first half.
"I think it was just the first-game jitters," Haywood said. "Everyone comes out nervous. We've never seen this team before; we weren't able to watch film. We were just kind of seeing how they were reacting. At halftime, the coaches came in and made adjustments, and I think everyone got their heads straight. The offensive line came out in the second half and started getting holes open, started blowing their guys back."
Murtha had a pair of 15-yard runs on the first two plays from scrimmage after intermission. They led to a 27-yard field goal by senior Dan Cabrera, giving Estancia a 3-0 advantage.
Murtha had a 36-yard touchdown run on Estancia's next drive called back due to holding, and the Eagles were eventually forced to punt. But he bettered that on the next drive, going up the middle for a 46-yard touchdown run that gave Estancia a 10-0 lead. Loara defensive back Joseph Stirrat tried to grab Murtha's jersey near the end of the play, but Murtha just ran through the attempt.
Murtha again had a touchdown run called back due to holding early in the fourth quarter. Loara was able to capitalize, batting quarterback Brad Wilson's pass in the air on the next play before senior defensive back Kyle O'Shea intercepted it on the Loara two-yard line.
On the subsequent play, Loara quarterback David Gistlinck scrambled left in the end zone, where he was chased by the rapidly gaining Cabrera. Gistlinck threw the ball up for grabs, and Haywood made the easy interception. A couple of steps later he was in the end zone, and Estancia was up, 17-0.
"I was just trying to drop back into coverage and keep him from scrambling," Haywood said. "But that was a good job by the line, not giving up and trying to get the points on the safety. In the end, he just threw it up, and I'm happy he did. I'm happy that I was able to contribute all that I did. I pay tribute to everybody else on the team – they played hard and without the line on both sides, we wouldn't be able to do anything."
Estancia was in control of the game.
Satisfied? That would be another matter.
"Loara came out to play in the first half," Bargas said. "Luckily for us we won, and we get to play a little bit of cleanup on this deal. But like I said, that wasn't our best performance by any means."
Estancia 17, Loara 0
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Loara 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 — 0
Estancia 0 – 0 – 10 – 7 — 17
Est – Cabrera 27 FG, 7:46.
Est – Murtha 46 run (Cabrera kick), 0:34.
Est – Haywood 4 INT return (Cabrera kick), 8:55.
Loa – Trillo, 13-86.
Est – Murtha, 23-166, 1 TD.
Loa – Gistlinck, 7-18-1, 49.
Est – Wilson, 8-17-1, 92.
Loa – C. O'Shea, 3-29.
Est – Vazquez, 4-41.