TUSTIN >> Valencia is here again, and the Tigers are for real.
Valencia put together a physical effort and capitalized on early chances to win its fourth game in a row, 3510, over Tustin in an Empire League game Friday at Tustin High. “When you get a chance where a couple things go your way early,” Valencia coach Jason Gray said, “and you can take advantage of it, that’s what you have to do as a good team.”
Valencia (5 -3, 3- 0) started the season 1-3 and now sits alone atop the Empire League standings with two weeks left in the regular season. Last season, the Tigers started 0-5 before a 4-1 run in league for a share of the league championship.
Tustin (7-1, 2-1) was ranked 17th in the county and first in CIF-SS Division 7. Valencia has won five straight against Tustin. The Tigers ran hard with Elijah Oropeza going for 138 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries.
Defensive ends Nathan Perez and Garrett Paine led the defensive push for Valencia that held Tustin’s goto back, KC Carr III, to 31 yards on 12 carries in the first half. “It takes 11 guys on defense to stop these guys,” Gray said, “and we played more than 11 tonight. I could name them all. I’m very proud of them.”
On the game’s opening drive, Valencia quarterback Zach Charles connected on a 55-yard pass to Marvin Burgos. Oropeza ran in a 1-yard touchdown to open the scoring. Tustin came back with a big pass from Mike Mierez to Donald McKinney for 39 yards, but settled for a field goal.
Joshua Carrera took the ensuing kickoff down the Tigers’ sideline 82 yards for a touchdown and an 11-point lead. Two plays later, Tustin misplayed a hand-off and Valencia’s Paine pounced on the fumble at the Tustin 9-yard line.
Oropeza took two carries to score on a 4-yard run to the push the lead to 21-3. Tustin got another long pass from Mierez to McKinney for 38 yards, but Valencia later stood up on fourth down. Valencia then took the ball for a 12-play drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown sneak by Charles.
Valencia led 28-3 going into halftime. Oropeza broke a 56-yard touchdown run to open the fourth quarter.