Esperanza High School's 21-15 Empire League victory over Pacifica Friday was neither fundamentally sound or pretty to watch. But it was a victory, and these days for Esperanza, that's enough.
Esperanza (2-1-1, 5-1-1) was a unanimous preseason choice to win the Empire League championship. But the Aztecs looked less than impressive in a 14-14 tie against Loara two weeks ago and a 23-14 loss to Los Alamitos last week.
Friday night at Bolsa Grande, the Aztecs, who like to control games by running against opponents, needed two long touchdown passes to win.
The final one, an 84-yard completion from quarterback Mike Moneymaker to flanker Clint Holt, came with 3:31 left in the game to give the Aztecs the victory.
"It's good enough," said Gary Meek, Esperanza coach. "I don't know what it is these days. It just seems we find ways to make things hard on ourselves."
Hardest of all were Esperanza's five turnovers. The first, a fumble by Moneymaker on the Pacifica 17, came with 3:20 left in the first quarter and ended a 69-yard drive that had consumed 8:40.
"It seems like every time we get inside the other team's 20-yard line, we hit a stone wall," Meek said. "It happened against Los Alamitos and it happened tonight. Hopefully, this is the end of it."
Pacifica sacked Moneymaker four times, but the Mariners' eight- and nine-man fronts eventually proved their undoing. Pacifica (2-2, 3-4) blitzed on the 84-yard touchdown pass, leaving Holt open down the middle.
"We have two plays like that," Meek said. "One is designed to go short to our tight end. We saw that it was wide open with all the stunting they were doing, so we thought it would work deep to the flanker, too."
Moneymaker, under pressure all night, completed 7 of 17 passes for 218 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
Pacifica quarterback Brent Johnson matched Moneymaker with two touchdown passes and did him one better with three interceptions. The last came with less than a minute to play as Pacifica was desperately trying to get down field.
Pacifica scored the only points of the first half on a 30-yard field goal by Derek Mahoney. In a standstill, each team compiled 95 yards of total offense in the first half.
The Mariners scored the game's first touchdown on a nine-yard pass from Johnson to Ken Greene with 4:42 left in the third quarter. The score was set up by Moneymaker's second fumble as he was sacked at his own 22-yard line. The extra point was no good and Pacifica led, 9-0.
Two minutes later, Moneymaker completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to Don Herrick and Esperanza pulled to 9-7. When Malek Doulet scored on a three-yard run with 10:54 left, Esperanza went ahead, 14-9.
Pacifica then drove 80-yards in 12 plays and finally scored on a nine-yard pass from Johnson to Cory Mathis. The try for two points failed, but Pacifica still led, 15-14.
Things got even worse for Esperanza on the kickoff as John Shim stepped out of bounds at the Aztec three. But three plays, later that mistake was quickly forgotten as Moneymaker completed the 84-yard pass to Holt.
"I'm just glad we got this," Meek said. "This was big for us. We had to win this, it was a must. It wasn't pretty."
But it was a win.