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ORANGE COUNTY PREP FOOTBALL

Trojans Turn Back Artists After Scare

October 15, 2000|ALEX ARREOLA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

University Coach Mark Cunningham said before the game that visiting Laguna Beach's 1-4 record was deceiving.

The host Trojans (4-2, 1-0) got a scare Saturday night at Irvine High as they fended off the Artists' comeback for a 34-20 victory in a Pacific Coast League football opener.

After University took a 24-10 lead into the second half, Laguna Beach (1-5, 0-1), led by quarterback Todd Merz, scored 10 consecutive points, cutting the deficit to 24-20.

Quarterback Jay Nichols shifted the momentum back to University, connecting with flanker Setiam Allah in the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown pass.

Nichols was too much for the Artist defense. He completed 13 of 19 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns.

His first two completions went for touchdowns, the second coming on a 25-yard pass to Zach Sherwood with 1:59 left in the first quarter.

"Our offensive line did a tremendous job tonight," Nichols said. "This win is a big boost for our team."

The Trojan defense, which has surrendered just 28 points in the last four games after getting routed by Irvine, 41-17, struggled to stop the Laguna Beach quarterback-receiver combination of Merz and Will Blodgett.

Merz was under constant pressure, getting hit hard on just about every pass attempt, but his resilience kept the Artists in the game. He completed four passes in the first half and had one intercepted.

Merz turned it around in the second half, throwing for 104 yards and a touchdown. He also had two field goals.

University suffocated the Artists' running game in the first half, holding them to one yard in 14 carries.

Merz completed nine of 20 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the game. Blodgett caught six passes for 116 yards.

"Merz and Blodgett are tremendous athletes," Trojan Coach Mark Cunningham said. "Our defense stepped it up when they had to, but Laguna Beach played a heck of a game."

The Artists have lost five consecutive league games since last year.

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