Strong winds from the east blew plenty of dust through the air at Jim Scott Stadium on Friday night. It came from across Placentia Avenue, at the train station parking lot.
You could call the Estancia High football team's nonleague game against Sonora the Dust Bowl. At times, the play on the field wasn't much prettier.
The Eagles will surely take the result, though.
Senior Zack Shafer caused a key fumble late and junior Devon Jackson made a key interception in the final minute, as Estancia hung on for an impressive 19-14 nonleague victory in its final tuneup before the Orange Coast League opener, the Battle for the Bell game on Oct. 11.
Costa Mesa's players, on a bye, watched Friday's game from the home bleachers. They saw a gutsy win for the Eagles (2-3), who were able to avoid a three-game losing streak heading into league.
"If we want to be able to make the playoffs and go deep, you've got to play these guys," Estancia Coach Mike Bargas said. "It'll be nice to just come off this win and get ready for Costa Mesa. Like I told the kids, our most important game was Sonora. Everything else is a sidebar. We can't look past every week. Our most important game last week was University, we just did Sonora and now our most important game is going to be the first league game ... Now our most important game is Costa Mesa High School. It's not the end-all game, but it's the most important one because it's the next game we have."
Both teams were able to move the ball effectively but saw several drives stall deep in the opponent's territory. Neither team was able to score at all after Sonora senior Jamaal Anderson's 71-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half.
But the Eagles made those defensive plays late against Sonora (1-4), which was driving late in the fourth quarter. But on fourth-and-goal from the six-yard line, Shafer was able to strip the ball from the running back, and senior end Arturo Ortega recovered it with less than four minutes to go.
"[Defensive coordinator Chris Bargas] called a really good blitz on that," Shafer said. "The team went through the gap, and I went straight into the guy's hand with my helmet and popped the ball out.
"We definitely stood our ground. It was a really good effort by the [defensive] line, working their butt off all night and making sure the 'backers could do their job. And the safeties came through at the end with those deep passes, breaking them up with good coverage downfield. We worked together as a whole team tonight. The offense did a good job working, and making sure the defense didn't get put back too far."
The Eagles were forced to punt, giving Sonora one last chance with less than a minute left and out of timeouts. After a long pass near midfield was incomplete, Jackson intercepted a pass near the Sonora sideline with 37 seconds left, effectively ending the game.
Estancia scored all of its points in the second quarter. The Eagles struck first on a precision pass over the middle from Connor Brown to Dalton O'Daly. The play went for 53 yards and a touchdown. On Estancia's next possession, senior fullback Ronnie Urquiza rumbled up the middle for 34 yards and another score.
The last couple of minutes of the first half were bizarre. Sonora scored its first touchdown with 1:40 left before halftime, on a 36-yard pitch to the tailback, Anderson, who gouged the Eagles all night for 241 yards and a pair of scores.
Estancia thought it had a touchdown on a double pass from Brown to O'Daly to Jackson, but it was called back due to penalty. But the Eagles used a 42-yard screen pass to Christian Laurent on the next play to get to the one-yard line. Laurent, who finished with 112 yards rushing, took it in himself a play later with 46 seconds left in the half.
Estancia's ensuing kickoff bounced down the field, and eventually through the legs of a Sonora player. It was untouched, until recovered by the Eagles' O'Daly on the Sonora nine-yard line. But Estancia could not get the ball in the end zone again. Laurent was stopped at the one on fourth-and-goal, and the Eagles settled for the 19-7 halftime lead.
The Eagles also went for it on fourth down on their opening drive, after getting to the Sonora four-yard line. But a pass was broken up.
"We're down on personnel and we're kind of getting into the heat of things," Mike Bargas said. "We've got to show people that we can throw the ball, even though [Brown] is a sophomore. I've got to take some chances and create a spark. I don't know if they were gutsy calls. They might be more borderline stupid, but we scouted them up and we saw certain things ... you know what? Even though we have a losing record, I believe in these guys. They've been scrappers to the very end. You either give up or you keep chipping away. You've got to take risks. They're calculated, but they're risks nonetheless."
The risks did not pay off, but the resulting win was sweet for the Eagles.
"It was a hard victory," Bargas said.
And a dusty one.