The Santa Ana High School football team was not exactly the best outfit for Tustin to play Friday night at Northrup Field--not if the Tillers wanted to arrange a rosy homecoming ceremony.
Santa Ana proved to be a bunch of homecoming wreckers, taking a 28-7 victory in front of 2,200 fans.
The win moved the Saints (3-1, 4-3) into a three-way tie for second place in the Century League with Villa Park and El Modena, and Tustin (1-3, 3-4) dropped to sixth.
Santa Ana had been holding a grudge since last year, when Tustin visited Santa Ana Stadium and beat the Saints, 17-7, to spoil their homecoming and knock them out of the playoff picture.
That game also left a number of other bruises--some the result of a brawl that ended the game with 37 seconds remaining.
Santa Ana didn't forget. Entering Friday night's game, Saint quarterback Eric Turner made a bold prediction in the newspaper. "We're just going to beat them and they won't have any reason to fight," he said.
But for a while, it looked as if the Tillers might prove Turner wrong. Tustin unveiled a feisty defense, custom-made to stop Orange County's eighth-rated passer.
"They came out and sacked me five times in the beginning," Turner said ruefully. "And their secondary confused the heck out of me."
The Tillers seemed to have every available playercapable of lacing his cleats patrolling the defensive backfield to baffle the 6-foot 5-inch Santa Ana senior and to suffocate his receivers.
Consequently, Turner completed a total of 2 passes for 29 yards in 10 attempts, his least productive outing of the season. He also threw two interceptions.
"Those hurt," Turner said, shaking his head.
The most memorable one--for Tustin, anyway--came with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter when Santa Ana held a 6-0 lead on two field goals by Raul Ochoa in the first half.
The Saints had driven 61 yards on eight plays, mainly on runs by fullback Emele Leausa and sophomore tailback Robert Lee, and appeared ready to score on second-and-seven at the 10-yard line.
But Turner's pass was intercepted by Tiller defensive back Todd Nelson, who somehow sprinted 90 yards, outrunning Laile Afualo and Frank Arechiga, to score. Tim Kotlar's kick gave Tustin a 7-6 lead, which the Tiller defense held until the fourth quarter.
Tustin's offense, however, was able to take advantage of some Tustin turnovers in the fourth quarter. With 8:27 remaining, a bad Tiller snap on a punt gave Santa Ana the ball at the 3-yard line. Lee, who gained 101 yards on 14 carries, subsequently scored on a 1-yard run for a 14-7 Saint lead.
With 2:15 left, Tiller tailback Tim Linehan fumbled and Saint Paul Hurley recovered. Lee later scored on a 27-yard run. Finally, a pass by Tustin quarterback Jim Russell was intercepted by Santa Ana defensive end Lanier Bridges, who ran it back for a touchdown with a minute left.