Santa Ana High School may boast one of Orange County's best running backs in junior Robert Lee, but Saddleback High did Lee and the Saints two better on several counts during Friday night's 25-6 upset of the top-ranked Saints.
For starters, the Roadrunners had two runners who outgained the highly touted Lee. Junior fullback Juan Valle rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown, and senior tailback Nate Primous added 67 yards and a touchdown.
Lee, held in check by a swarming Saddleback defense, finished with 59 yards in 18 carries and scored the Saints' only touchdown.
A Santa Ana Stadium crowd of 6,500 also watched the Roadrunners score twice on safeties, both recorded by a Saddleback defensive end whose first name is his last--Tafea Tafea. His friends call him "Ditto."
Finally, Saddleback more than doubled Santa Ana in total yardage, outgaining the Saints, 282-120.
"You give me little kids who have desire and heart and I'll take them over big people any day of the week," Roadrunner Coach Jerry Witte said. "They had some big people, but we just controlled the line on offense and defense. We were quicker and we outhit them."
The only phase of the game that Santa Ana dominated was the penalty department, where the Saints were cited 13 times for 120 yards.
Seventh-ranked Saddleback led, 16-6, at halftime but blew the game open with nine third-quarter points. Tafea began the spree by tackling Saint punter Richard Fanti in the end zone after Fanti ran down a bad snap.
On their next possession, the Roadrunners drove 41 yards in six plays, with Valle scoring on a nine-yard run and Brian Hoialmen adding his third extra point. Neither team threatened to score in the fourth period.
Penalties and mistakes killed the Saints in the first half. Santa Ana was called for 10 infractions in the first two quarters (for a loss of 85 yards), and two bad snaps in punt formations cost the Saints a safety and a touchdown.
How ugly was it? A 33-yard pass from Fanti (the Saint quarterback) to Darrell Bailey and a 10-yarder to Tim Everett gave the Saints a first down at the Roadrunner 24 late in the second quarter. Three plays later, after an intentional grounding penalty and a clipping call, the Saints had a third-and-51 from the Saddleback 35.
Fanti, back to punt, then batted a high snap into the air, fielded the ball and scrambled before finding Donovan Mauga open on the right side. He completed the pass but lost a yard.
The Roadrunners took over and, on their first play, quarterback Sean Therien lofted a pass down the right sideline to Hector Santa Cruz, who ran under it, made the catch and raced into the end zone for a 16-6 lead.
Earlier, Fanti chased a high snap into his end zone but Saddleback's Tafea caught up with him and hauled him down for a safety, which gave the Roadrunners a 9-6 lead.
Santa Ana scored first, taking advantage of Efrain Islas' blocked punt in the first quarter that gave the Saints possession at the Saddleback 13. It took Lee one play to find the end zone as he took a handoff from Fanti inside and then bolted around left end for a touchdown with 5:17 to play in the first.
Saddleback came back, driving 53 yards in six plays for a go-ahead touchdown. Primous and Valle each had runs of 18 yards on the drive, and Primous scored on a nine-yard run with 11:25 left in the second.
Outside of a 60-yard run that was called back because of a penalty, Lee's touchdown run was his longest gain of the night. After gaining 231 yards in Santa Ana's 31-21 victory over Mission Viejo in last year's Southern Conference championship game, Lee has yet to break the 100-yard barrier in two games this season.