LA HABRA — In a way it was a perfect run, a signature run that gave Estancia High senior Robert Murtha the Newport-Mesa career rushing record.
He started to the right on Friday night at La Habra High, patiently waiting for just a moment before cutting back into the middle of the field. No one could catch him there. Fifty-two yards later, he was in the end zone midway through the second quarter.
Estancia's three-year starter at running back now has 4,398 career yards. He has surpassed the 4,333 yards amassed by Costa Mesa's Binh Tran in the early 1990s.
But the important symbol for the Eagles was a letter, not a number. They earned the "W," spoiling Sonora's homecoming and outlasting the Raiders, 24-18, in the nonleague game.
"It's a great confidence-booster," Murtha said of the win, which came after losses to Irvine and University. "We slacked off the last couple of weeks. We all did, as a team, and as a team we picked ourselves back up [tonight]. It's a great victory."
The win ensured the Eagles (3-2), tied for the No. 10 ranking in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division, wouldn't go into Orange Coast League play with a three-game losing streak. The first league game Friday is a big one: the Battle for the Bell against rival Costa Mesa at Jim Scott Stadium.
Defeating Sonora wasn't ensured until Estancia's Levi Stillman intercepted a pass at midfield with 27 seconds to go. The Raiders (2-3) had two chances to go on game-winning touchdown drives, but each time they were shut down.
They got to the Estancia 41-yard line with just more than a minute to play. But on fourth-and-10, a pass over the middle to running back Matthew Villasenor hit the ground before the senior could corral it.
Villasenor punished the Eagles on the ground, rushing 23 times for 179 yards and a touchdown. In the end, Estancia was able to hold on.
"We always want to make this suspenseful, I guess," said Estancia Coach Mike Bargas, leaning on a cane as he deals with an ankle injury. "But we played well on defense, and on offense we were able to run the ball outside. It was good. Special teams [came through]. We were clicking tonight."
The special teams, in fact, gave Estancia the lead in the second quarter. Sonora went ahead, 3-0, on a field goal, but Estancia senior Ben Beck took the ensuing kickoff back 92 yards for a touchdown.
It was the start of 17 consecutive Estancia points. The Eagles then used Murtha's touchdown run and a field goal by Dan Cabrera to take a 17-3 halftime lead.
Estancia went ahead, 24-11, midway through the third quarter when senior quarterback Brad Wilson scrambled into the end zone from 12 yards out. They were the last points the Eagles would score, but they made them hold up.
Sonora got the ball back one last time with 50 seconds left and no timeouts. But Stillman's interception ended the drama.
Colby Koste started at running back for Estancia, finishing with 28 yards on seven carries.
He also made several big plays at linebacker, as did Jackson Letterman.
Murtha, who had missed last week's loss to University (ankle), got many of the carries.
He certainly made the most of them.
"It feels great, but I didn't break the record," Murtha said. "Estancia broke the record. We all got the record together. I couldn't do this without anyone, so Estancia got the record, not me."
The Eagles also got a big win.
Estancia 24, Sonora 18
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Estancia 0 – 17 – 7 – 0 — 24
Sonora 0 – 3– 15 – 0 — 18
Son – Silva 31 FG, 11:36.
Est – Beck 92 kickoff return, 11:20.
Est – Murtha 52 run (Cabrera kick), 5:39.
Est – Cabrera 36 FG, 0:09.
Son – Rios 4 run (Skaggs run), 9:36.
Est – Wilson 12 run (Cabrera kick), 7:41.
Son – Villasenor 5 run (Silva kick), 3:30.
Est – Murtha, 15-105, 1 TD; Wilson, 9-59, 1 TD.
Son – Villasenor, 23-179, 1 TD.
Est – Wilson, 6-14-0, 48.
Son – Mahlstede, 9-22-0, 70.
Est – Bargas, 2-18.
Son – Pedroza, 3-31.