Western High School's Central Conference playoff game against Tustin Friday night began much the way the 1986 football season started for the Pioneers.
With great promise and enthusiasm.
But both the game and Western's season ended at the same time, with the Pioneers experiencing the other end of the emotional spectrum.
After jumping out to a 7-0 lead in the first period, the Pioneers allowed three touchdowns. Tustin then held on for a 21-14 first-round victory in front 4,000 on Tustin's Northrup Field.
Western, trailing in the final minutes, had a first down on the Tiller 48-yard line, but Rick Micklos' pass to Jorge Ortiz was tipped in the air by the receiver and intercepted by Tustin safety Walt McMahon with 2:10 remaining.
Chris Gankema gained 11 yards in three carries as Western used its last two timeouts, and the Tillers (9-2) were able to run out the clock.
It wasn't supposed to end this way for the Pioneers. Back in September, Western, which returned five all-league players from last year's Orange League co-champion and had a huge offensive line, was ranked No. 1 in the Central Conference preseason poll.
Big things were expected from the Pioneers, but they had problems solidifying their offensive backfield and never even challenged Valencia for the league title.
Western finished third in league and closed the season at 6-5.
"That shows you that rankings don't mean anything," Pioneer Coach Jim Howell said.
Tustin, meanwhile, advances to next week's quarterfinals against Bolsa Grande, which defeated Fullerton, 39-28, Friday night. The Tillers' win set a school single season record for victories, breaking the previous mark of eight, last achieved in 1922.
Lani Machado, Tustin's leading rusher who was listed as doubtful for Friday night's game because of an ankle injury, came off the bench early in the first quarter to gain 78 yards in 15 carries. Quarterback George Menges threw for one touchdown and ran for another.
But punt returner Scott Pulaski was probably most responsible for the Tillers' win.
With the score tied, 7-7, early in the third quarter, Pulaski dropped a punt but scooped it up and raced 66 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead. Later in the quarter, he returned a punt 29 yards to give Tustin a first down on the Western 32-yard line.
Seven plays later, Menges scored from one yard out and Tim Kotlar added his third extra point to give the Tillers a 21-7 lead with 3:46 to play in the third.
The Pioneers came back with a 55-yard drive, which included Art Giovannini's 12-yard pass to Mike Huy from punt formation, Western's second successful fake punt of the game. Huy ran 19 yards to the 5 yard line and, two plays later, Micklos threw a pass over the middle that was deflected by a Tustin defender into the arms of Giovannini, who grabbed the ball and ran into the end zone for a score.
The Pioneers, after stopping the Tillers and retaining possession, attempted another fake punt from the Tustin 40, but this time Giovannini's pass fell incomplete with 7:22 left.
Western had scored on its first possession when Micklos, the Pioneers' third quarterback this year, threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Giovannini. Tustin took advantage of Mike Huy's fumble on the Tiller 13-yard line in the second quarter to tie the game on Menges' six-yard touchdown pass to Gankema.