Capistrano Valley barely outlasted Foothill, 24-18, in a ragged and rugged nonleague game Friday at Capistrano Valley High with the host Cougars needing a last-minute defensive stand to preserve the victory.
Capistrano Valley's Ronnie Muscarella sacked Foothill quarterback Robby Koster and forced a fumble at the Cougar 40 as time ran out to end the Knights' comeback hopes.
Foothill moved inside the Capistrano Valley 25 twice in the final four minutes but could not produce a tying or winning score as the Cougars forced two turnovers.
Scott Stephan rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns in 27 carries to lead a punishing ground attack for the Cougars, who were able to shelter reserve quarterback Garrett Gray, who was making his first start this season.
Gray only had to throw three passes in place of starter Jeff Dixon, whose thumb injury on his throwing hand limited him to running back duty. Dixon rushed for 41 yards in seven carries to help the Cougars amass 248 yards rushing.
Capistrano Valley (2-1) also got a boost from its special teams when Ryan Richards returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown with 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter to make it, 24-12.
And Derrick Stephan blocked a conversion attempt by Foothill's Michael Whiddon with 10:36 remaining, keeping Capistrano Valley's lead at 24-18 after Tolbert Jones scored on a 14-yard run for Foothill (1-2). The missed conversion wasn't unusual Friday; the teams combined for six missed conversions.
Still, Foothill had a chance to tie or win in the final minutes.
The Knights, playing without starting running back Skyler Champion, who was out with a knee injury, trailed, 24-18, midway through the fourth quarter.
Koster, who rushed for 110 yards in 14 carries and completed nine of 18 passes for 121 yards, moved the Knights to the Capistrano Valley five with four minutes remaining.
But on a first and goal, Terrence Newman, who scored on an 18-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, fumbled and Capistrano Valley's Garrett Prechtl picked up the ball and returned it to the Cougar 24 with 3 minutes 39 seconds remaining.