By STEVE FRYER
Photo by Rose Palmisano
The Orange County Register www.OCVarsity.com
Wes Fletcher, Valencia´s star senior running back who came into the year with
more than 4,000 yards rushing, said he was nervous before the game. Valencia´s
opponent in the first high school game in Orange County in this 2007 season did
not do much to calm him down. Brea Olinda stayed with Valencia until the final
moments, as Valencia beat Brea, 32-29, in a wild season opener for both Thursday
at Valencia High.
Brea, a 4-6 team last season that has been picked by Century League coaches to finish last in that league this season, had a 29-24 lead in the fourth quarter until Fletcher broke off a 39-yard touchdown run with 2:49 remaining. A two-point pass from Marcus Beckman to Julius Macharia gave the Tigers (7-5 in ´06) a 32-29 advantage.
On the Wildcats´ first play on their ensuing possession, Valencia´s Cody Reigel caused a fumble that was recovered by the Tigers´ Mike Alvarez with 2:33 to go. Valencia then gave the ball to Fletcher for four plays in a row to get a first down, Tigers lineman Travis Gipson recovered a botched snap and then Fletcher carried once more as time expired. Fletcher finished with 195 yards and two rushing touchdowns on 27 carries. He had only 33 yards on 10 attempts in the first half, before getting going in the second to produce 162 on 17 in the second. "I was not all there," Fletcher explained. "Then we started opening things up in the second half after we made some adjustments."
Those adjustments affected Valencia´s blocking scheme. Brea was moving linebackers in and out of gaps to confuse Valencia´s linemen and contain Fletcher. Fletcher scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter to put the Tigers ahead, 7-0. Brea shut out Valencia in the second quarter, and took a 10-7 lead into halftime after senior quarterback Kyle Essington scored on an 8-yard run and Michael Frisina kicked a 24-yard field goal.
The kickoff to start the second half was returned 99 yards for a touchdown by Valencia´s Kelli Jackson, who did not play much after that because of a leg cramp. His points gave the Tigers a 14-10 lead that did not last long. Essington connected with wide receiver Dakota Hopkins for a 40-yard touchdown pass on which Hopkins made a diving over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone to put the Wildcats on top, 17-14.
Macharia kicked a 34-yard field goal to bring Valencia back, 17-17. After an interception by Valencia´s Joe Stikeleather, Macharia made a fine catch on a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Marcus Beckman to give Valencia a 24-17 lead. Brea´s Kory Johnson scored on a 74-yard run, but a mishandled snap kept the Wildcats from adding an extra point, so Valencia had a 24-23 lead. Brea´s Jake Willison´s 9-yard touchdown run put the Wildcats ahead again, but a pass for two points was incomplete, leaving them with a 29-24 edge. Essington finished 10 for 17 for 186 yards, with the one touchdown pass and the interception, and ran for a touchdown. Hopkins had 113 receiving yards on five catches. Macharia had his touchdown reception, scored on a two-point conversion and kicked a field goal and two extra points to give him 13 points.
The Brea-Valencia game was the only high school football game played in the county Thursday night. San Clemente played in the only other game involving a county team, late in Hawaii. Tonight´s schedule features 18 games as more teams are playing in this Week 0. Most teams still kick off their seasons in Week 1, next week.