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Fumble Costly to Costa Mesa : Rally fails: Late Mustang miscue allows Los Amigos to regain lead and win, 28-24.

September 25, 1993|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — Costa Mesa running back Binh Tran pounded a weary Los Amigos defense 37 times for 135 yards, but it was the three times Tran didn't get to carry the ball that cost the Mustangs the game.

Costa Mesa quarterback Jeff Niebling had already turned over the ball twice while trying to get it to Tran when he lost snap on his own five with 45 seconds remaining. Los Amigos recovered and scored on the next play to snatch a 28-24 victory from heartbroken Costa Mesa Friday in a nonleague game at Newport Harbor High.

Costa Mesa (1-1-1), which had come back from a 21-3 deficit, led, 24-21, and faced a third and six when Niebling fumbled the snap. After a cluster of bodies dived for the ball, the referee awarded it to Los Amigos.

"I have no idea what happened," Niebling said with tears streaming down his face. "The ball was all wet. Everything happened so fast. Right when I started to dive for the ball, a (Costa Mesa) guard came in and kicked the ball away."

Los Amigos linebacker Junior Leofa didn't know who recovered.

"I just know I saw the ball loose, and then I saw the referee point our way," Leofa said.

It appeared Los Amigos lineman Matt Sepulona came away with the ball, but even Los Amigos Coach Steve Bolton wasn't sure which of his players covered it.

What mattered was that Lobo running back Noah Tagatauli scampered in from the five on a wingback reverse to give Los Amigos (3-0) the victory.

Until Niebling fumbled, it looked as if the Lobos' mistakes would cost them the game. Leading, 21-11, at halftime, a sharp Los Amigos offense began to self-destruct. Los Amigos quarterback Ape Tuato (16 of 27 for 220 yards and two touchdowns) fumbled when he was blindsided by linebacker Adam McNally, and Dwane Spencer picked up the loose ball on the Los Amigos 19 and ran it in untouched to make it 21-18.

On the next play from scrimmage, Costa Mesa's Ryan Taylor intercepted a middle screen pass and scooted 25 yards to give Costa Mesa a 24-21 lead with 7:11 left in the third quarter.

Tran kept the ball away from Los Amigos throughout the third and fourth quarters with effective yardage on pitch plays. When a Los Amigos drive stalled on the Mustang 37 with 2:50 remaining, the game was Costa Mesa's to lose. Los Amigos had only one timeout left when Niebling fumbled.

Still, Leofa said he kept the faith.

"I knew it was our game," Leofa said. "I had confidence that we would find a way to win."

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