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Esperanza Gets a Leg Up on Servite With 7-6 Victory

Football: The eighth-ranked Aztecs hold on to defeat the county's fifth-ranked team. Friars turn to no-huddle offense to fuel second-half rally.


FULLERTON — While considering the possible scenarios before Friday's meeting with Servite, Esperanza Coach Gary Meek had a sudden thought.

"This game could come down to kicking," Meek said. "Last year both teams were bad at it, and this year both have improved."

Meek was a prophet. The kicking game was a major difference in eighth-ranked Esperanza's 7-6 upset over the fifth-ranked Servite in front of an estimated 5,000 at Cal State Fullerton.

The Aztecs were a leg up on the Friars because Esperanza made the extra point on its touchdown, and Servite did not.

The Friars were down 7-0, after the first half, but drove 63 yards in 10 plays on their first possession of the third quarter. Vince Reed scored from four yards out.

But Scott Lambert hooked the extra point attempt that would have tied the score. Lambert and the Friars missed another chance 42 seconds into the fourth quarter when his 43-yard field goal hit the crossbar.

Still, the victory was in doubt until Aztec strong safety Ryan Galassi intercepted Friar quarterback Ryan Garko's pass at the Servite 24 with about two minutes to play. Esperanza then ran out the clock.

"I don't think he saw me," Galassi said. "I was in the right place at the right time." Then, thinking back to last year's last-minute loss to Servite, Glassi smiled. "Last year we weren't able to stop them late. This time we did."

The Aztecs--behind an active offensive line, the running of Brent Garrison (147 yards) and steady passing of quarterback Brant Wagner (123 yards)--controlled the action much of the night.

Defensively, they stifled Servite in the first half and survived the second half, when the Friars switched to a no-huddle offense to change the game's tempo.

"We had very good execution from our offensive line," Meek said. "And we had some good drives early. But we went into a funk in the second half and never got out of it."

Until the no-huddle strategy kick-started a sputtering Servite offense, the Friars were their own worse enemy. They had seven penalties for 45 yards, and six were procedure penalties for the offensive line moving before the snap.

"We seemed to perform better going to the no-huddle," Servite Coach Larry Toner said. "But we also learned we have to be more conscience of our execution. Not hearing the quarterback's cadence tonight just killed us."

The Aztecs held a 7-0 lead after the first half, but should have had more. Esperanza's offense gained 100 yards rushing, 98 yards passing, but their only score came on a seven-yard run by Garrison, who swept around the left side of Servite's defensive front with 63 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Esperanza had a great chance to score on its first possession, driving from its 38 to the Friars' 7. But Servite lineman Ali Zandi came up a big play, sacking Wagner for a five-yard loss and forcing a fumble that Shane Ellis recovered at the 12.

Esperanza also attempted a field goal in the second quarter, but Nathan Fikse's 48-yard try fell short.

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