El Toro High School's football team was everything it was said to be Saturday night as the top-ranked Chargers rolled to a 34-14 victory over Tustin in front of 5,800 fans in Orange Coast College's LeBard Stadium.
El Toro's 15th straight victory over two seasons looked strikingly familiar to most of the Chargers' victories last season when they beat their opponents by an average of 21.7 points en route to the Southern Conference title.
The cast of players may be a little different, but El Toro still showed the ability to strike quickly and often behind talented quarterback Bret Johnson, who completed 15 of 26 passes for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns Saturday night.
Tight end Bobby Gaskins and tailback David Nemeth, two new support players, also were impressive. Gaskins caught 4 passes for 64 yards and 2 touchdowns. Nemeth gained 57 yards in 13 carries and scored 3 touchdowns.
"I wondered how some of our new players would react, and I'll take an opener like this season," said Bob Johnson, El Toro coach. "I expected a good game. Tustin is a good football team with 11 starters back off a 9-3 team. I'm happy with this win."
The Tillers played evenly with their bigger and more physical opponents until the fourth quarter when two penalties attempting a kickoff and a fumble cost them any chance of an upset.
Tustin had moved to within 6 points, 20-14, with 1:10 remaining in the third quarter when Chris Gankema capped a 79-yard drive with a 6-yard run. The Tiller fans were on their feet and the momentum was clearly in Tustin's favor.
But the momentum quickly faded when two successive kickoffs sailed out of bounds for five-yard penalties and then El Toro's Adam Brass returned the third kickoff 23 yards to Tustin's 47-yard line.
It took Johnson only five plays to lead El Toro to the end zone for a 26-14 lead and Tustin never threatened again.
"Those bad kickoffs killed all our momentum," said Marijon Ancich, Tustin coach. "I thought we could come back. We were will prepared and the kids played their hearts out, but it's going to take a real good team to beat El Toro."