COSTA MESA — Senior running back Robert Murtha had a big game Friday night for the Estancia High football team.
There was probably no other place that his biggest fan, his mother Christine, would have rather been on her birthday.
"The last two years, I was hoping I could get a game on her birthday," Robert Murtha said. "Finally, my senior year, I was able to get it."
He picked his mother up on the sidelines after the Orange Coast League game, giving her a big hug before Estancia cheerleaders joined in. Everyone sang happy birthday.
There was plenty of love to go around.
Murtha had 169 yards rushing and a season-high three touchdowns as the Eagles defeated Saddleback, 40-7, on their homecoming night at Jim Scott Stadium. In the process, Estancia clinched a berth into the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs.
With one game to go in the regular season, the Eagles (6-3, 3-1 in league) stayed in second place in league behind Laguna Beach (8-0-1, 4-0). While it appears unlikely that the two-time defending league champion Eagles will catch the Breakers, they now have a second season for which to prepare.
"League champs or not, we still have our chance in CIF," said Murtha, whose team is tied for ninth in the Southern Division rankings.
Estancia started out fast against Saddleback (3-6, 1-3) on Friday night. Senior receiver Ben Beck caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Brad Wilson on the Eagles' first drive. On the second drive, Murtha ran through a big hole on the right side for a 29-yard score.
Senior cornerback Levi Stillman was not fooled by a Saddleback flea flicker later in the quarter. He stayed home, intercepting the pass and returning it 58 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the quarter.
Yet the Eagles were not satisfied after losing three fumbles in the first half. The third fumble enabled the Roadrunners to pick up their lone score of the night, on Bryan Salcido's 10-yard run in the final minute of the half.
Saddleback was without both of its top rushers, senior Eddie Arvezu and junior Isaiah Franks, due to injuries. But junior Antonio Soto (20 carries for 85 yards) ran the ball effectively for the visitors.
"I told the kids at halftime, 'That's not Estancia football,'" Coach Mike Bargas said. "We had some turnovers, some missed tackles, fumbled the ball. Saddleback has improved tremendously from last year. You can't let your guard down."
The Eagles cleaned it up in the second half. Beck found the end zone for the second time, returning a punt 85 yards with 9:22 left in the third quarter.
"We just wanted to get the win," said Beck, who also had an interception and had another punt return for a touchdown called back due to an illegal block. "We just want to have momentum going into the playoffs."
Estancia continues to be banged up, but the Eagles got senior tight end/defensive end Matt Jarmacz back on Friday night. Jarmacz had suffered a concussion in the Battle for the Bell game three weeks ago.
Murtha had the wind knocked out of him on his first carry of the fourth quarter, when he said he took a helmet to the stomach. Undeterred, he returned to the game a play later and ripped off a 25-yard run.
Then, on the next play, he scored on a 32-yard run. Christine and the rest of the Eagles fans were able to celebrate, knowing the win was in the bag.
"We didn't get anybody banged up tonight, which was nice," Bargas said. "Next week's the end of the regular season, and we just want to keep this thing rolling a little bit."
Estancia closes out its regular season on Nov. 2 against Calvary Chapel, back at Jim Scott Stadium.