YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsAztecs

PREP FOOTBALL : Irvine's New Cast Upsets Esperanza


IRVINE — There was little doubt that Irvine was going to have to live on more than reputation Saturday night.

Gone were 18 starters from last season's Southern Section Division IV championship team, the Vaqueros' second consecutive title. And here was Esperanza, one of the strongest programs in Southern California, winner of 39 of its last 42 games.

But the Vaqueros proved to be more than a house of cards. They overpowered the Aztecs, 35-17, in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 3,000 at Irvine High School.

Irvine (1-0) scored 28 second-half points and dominated a team that was accustomed to doing the pushing. The Vaqueros, in fact, are the first non-Empire League team to beat Esperanza since 1989, when the Aztecs lost to Villa Park in the Division III playoffs.

"This is definitely a high-water mark for our program," Irvine Coach Terry Henigan said. "To beat Esperanza is a big thing."

And to beat the Aztecs (0-1) with a new cast of characters borders on huge.

Missing was Scott Seal, who graduated after setting every team rushing record during his three-year career.

But Tony Mathis made him old news. Mathis gained 111 yards in 20 carries and scored four touchdowns. The last was a 41-yard run with five minutes left that added an exclamation point to the victory.

"Scott's gone and I'm here," Mathis said. "I'm a senior. It's my turn."

Missing was quarterback Aron Garcia, who guided the Vaqueros to the title as a senior in 1992. He threw 20 touchdowns a year ago, a Irvine single-season record.

In stepped senior Mike Phelps, who had never thrown a pass on the varsity level. He quickly learned how, completing 13 of 17 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown.

"This is how I always pictured my first start," Phelps said. "I was really nervous at first, but I loosened up in the second half."

Having Geoff Noisy as a target would help anyone relax.

Noisy, a transfer from Santiago, was filling in for another departed player, Todd Thomas, who caught 55 passes last season. Noisy caught six passes for 117 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown that gave the Vaqueros a 28-10 lead with 11 minutes left.

That made it easy on the defense, which limited the Aztecs to 104 yards rushing. Esperanza took a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, but faded fast.

Said Mathis: "Never promise more than you can do, but do more than you promise."

And Irvine did live up to its promise, and then some.

Los Angeles Times Articles