COSTA MESA — Five days before Sage Hill School kicked off the football season on Thursday, its coach, J.R. Tolver, became a dad for the second time in as many years. School started at Sage Hill this week and colleagues have congratulated Tolver on his latest son.
Tolver hoped to return to campus on Friday for the birth of something new for his team: a winning streak.
The Lightning entered the opener on the road against Calvary Chapel without a victory in the program's last 12 games. Sage Hill came close to ending the longest losing streak in school history, before it lost to the Eagles, 19-7, at Estancia High.
"It's a new year," Tolver said of his team's motto. "As far as I'm concerned the 2013 Sage Hill family is 0-1. Everything that's come before that doesn't matter at this time. We just have to make sure that we look at ourselves in the mirror tonight and try to make ourselves better in areas we weren't tonight."
Sage Hill started slow, falling behind, 12-0, in the opening quarter. Early mistakes like jumping offside on fourth-and-short, missing a field-goal try and throwing an interception inside the red zone hurt the Lightning.
After the first quarter, the Lightning settled down and played Calvary Chapel even. Sage Hill more than hung with the bigger school, shutting out the Eagles in the second and third quarters, before allowing a touchdown midway through the fourth that put the game away.
The victory is Chris Cox's first and it came in his debut as Calvary Chapel's coach. Tolver congratulated Cox afterward, knowing it could've been the other way around.
Sage Hill had its chances to take its first lead in its lone drive in the third quarter and then again in its first drive in the fourth quarter. Each time, the offense moved into Calvary Chapel territory, only to see a delay of game penalty or a tipped lateral pass push the Lightning back.
Sage Hill never recovered. The five-yard penalty in the third quarter forced kicker Will Burns to attempt a 32-yard field goal, instead of a 27-yarder. The Lightning came away with zero points.
The first drive in the fourth began on the Eagles' 40-yard line. After a couple of runs by running back Alfonso Corona produced four yards, Sage Hill found itself at midfield. Christian Shears, a 6-foot defensive lineman, jumped to knock quarterback CJ McCord's lateral pass further back.
By the time the Lightning fell on the ball, the offense faced a fourth-and-20. Sage Hill punted, and by the time it reached midfield again, the game was over.
"Coming out against a team that really took it to you the year before, it's really easy to let …doubt creep in," said Tolver, whose team opened last year with a 42-20 setback to Calvary Chapel. "We kind of woke up there and decided that we were good enough to compete. We just didn't capitalize on some of the opportunities that we got late. We started cramping up late. We started losing guys late."
The defense, led by lineman Logan Cook and Burns and Vince Wetmore in the secondary, kept Sage Hill in the game. Seeing Calvary Chapel lose its starting quarterback, Danny Mattero (93 passing yards and 67 rushing yards), to cramps in the third quarter also helped.
The Eagles made things tough for Sage Hill's quarterback as well. They seemed to get to McCord whenever the Lightning found a rhythm on offense. They sacked the junior five times, three of those turned in by defensive end Nicholas Meldrum.
McCord, who completed 13-of-28 passes for 138 yards, put the Lightning on the scoreboard before time expired in the second half. He snuck in from the one, and the PA announcer told everyone that Sage Hill also managed to score right before halftime of last year's season opener against Calvary Chapel.
What mattered was the result. The Eagles prevailed and Sage Hill lost yet again.
"I think we'll be OK," said Tolver, before the conversation turned to his newborn, Gregory. "I can't wait until I get him in a Sage Hill uniform out there."
Dad hopes it doesn't take that long before Sage Hill wins a game.
Calvary Chapel 19, Sage Hill 7