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ORANGE COUNTY PREP FOOTBALL : Westminster Shows Esperanza What It Can Do in 16-14 Upset

September 25, 1987|MIKE CORNWELL | Times Staff Writer

There was nothing wrong with your eyes. Your brain was also interpreting their signals correctly. Even if the reality it was decoding was almost unbelievable.

Yes, the team on the field Thursday night was Esperanza's Aztecs, one of the favorites to win just about everything in sight this year.

Yes, that was the same offense that scored 31 points last week, but it was sputtering and hacking like a car just taken off the blocks.

Yes, that was the same behemoth offensive line letting defenders into the backfield as if it were an on-ramp. And yes, that score on Valencia High School's scoreboard that had Westminster defeating Esperanza, 16-14, was no hoax.

"I think Jack (Bowman) and I were the only people who thought these kids were capable of playing this way," said Westminster's co-coach, Stan Clark. "We told them that at a team meeting and the people in that room were probably the only ones in Orange County who believed it."

The Lions made believers out of Esperanza early. On just the third play of his first offensive series, Esperanza quarterback Joe Sugar threw a pass that was intercepted by Westminster's Richard Speer and returned 52 yards for a touchdown. That was a sign of the kind of night that the Aztecs were in store for.

On the game's very next play, Clint Holt caught the kickoff at his six-yard line and returned it 94 yards for a touchdown. Except for that sudden strike, the Aztecs' misfiring offense would not be able to generate any more points until the fourth quarter.

That meant crisis time. Still in the first quarter, Westminster's Brian O'Hara caught a 7-yard pass from quarterback Bob Elliott that capped an 89-yard drive. And then came the back-breaking play. Standing in punt formation, Moler had to cover a ball that had soared over his head and into the end zone. The safety gave the Lions a 16-7 lead.

Elliott would wind up completing 7 of 18 passes for 88 yards and running back Dax Hammers would lead the Lions with 55 yards on 16 bullish carries.

Westminster punter Troy Rossean kept the Aztec offense in poor field position most of the night. He averaged more than 50 yards and had one punt travel 63 yards.

Penalties stalled a third-quarter Esperanza drive that wound up fruitless as Kevin Leon had a 27-yard field attempt go awry.

Esperanza managed its one successful scoring drive in the fourth quarter when tailback Mike Finley scored on a 2-yard run. After the extra point, the Aztecs trailed by only two. Indeed, they seemed on the verge of scoring a game-winning touchdown when Mike Kent caught a pass at Westminster's 15-yard line with less than a minute remaining in the game. However, on the very next play, Moler fumbled the snap and it was recovered by the Lions, who ran out the clock.

Moler led Esperanza with 91 yards on 9 carries, and workhorse fullback Malek Doulat chipped in with 85 yards on 20 carries.

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