Game 1 - El Modena Vanguards

EAGLES 17, EL MODENA 10 (FULLERTON, Sept. 12, 2002)

Players of the Game
Offense O-Line Defense D-Line Special Teams
Whithorne None M. Johnson Slinkard Nienhuis

The Eagles began their 14th varsity season with a methodical 17-10 over the El Modena Vanguards before approximately 3,500 fans at Cal State Fullerton behind the strong running of Ashton White and a sensational contribution from backup QB Mark Sanchez. Sanchez, a sophomore, came off the bench in relief of starter Case Colaw and facing a 3rd and 15 on his first varsity snap threw a 55-yard scoring strike to Bobby Whithorne on the first play of the fourth quarter to put Santa Margarita up 14-10. The Eagles (1-0) subsequently forced two fourth quarter turnovers and kicked a late field goal to hold of a spirited El Modena (0-1) team to improve to 2-0-1 in their last three season openers at Titan Stadium.

Until the Whithorne touchdown El Modena had built a 10-7 lead through three quarters largely on the legs of Daniel Dixon (154 yards) and ineffective play by the Eagle offense. Both offenses were hurt by penalties and typical first game mistakes, but the defenses came to play in that it was a physical smash mouth affair that featured plenty of hard hitting and 27 workhorse carries by both Dixon and White (91 yards). The Vanguards got on the board first after a 24-yard Dixon run set up a first and goal on the Eagle nine. Santa Margarita held firm and forced a 24-yard field goal by Steven Sanada that put El Mo up 3-0 with 7:13 left in the quarter. The Eagles responded with a 14-play, 61-yard drive capped by a one-yard td run by White - the 12th game in a row where he has scored a Td - with 11:25 left in the first half gave the Eagles a 7-3 lead. Ashton, clearly playing at less than 100%, showed he was ready to make a statement as he plowed ahead for two key 3rd down conversions to keep the drive alive. After an exchange of punts, Dixon capped a 56-yard drive by scoring from seven yards out with 2:13 before intermission gave El Mo a 10-7 lead they would hold until the Whithorne touchdown.

The Eagle defense, picking up the slack for the offense, responded in the third quarter by forcing two punts and holding the Vanguards on downs on another drive, but the team was only able to muster two yards of offense on eight plays before the switchover at QB to start the fourth quarter. From that point Santa Margarita took command of the game by gaining 101 of their 187 total yards and winning the battle of special teams and the line of scrimmage. Will Johnson's 25-yard field goal, set up by a Ryan Neinhius' 28-yard punt return and 9-and 11-yard runs by White with 4:53 left increased the lead to 17-10. The Eagles stopped the next El Mo drive with 1:17 left when Nienhuis, a junior making his first start at safety, forced a fumble by Dixon on the Eagle 28 that was recovered by CB Mark Johnson (11 tackles). The Vanguards promptly used three timeouts on defense and got the ball back once more but junior LB Thomas Ramirez's interception of a Colin Chase pass with 0:36 left sealed the victory.

Besides Whithorne, who led all receivers with five receptions for 78 yards and also logged five tackles, other top performers included LBs Jack Meehan and Dustin Slinkard who recorded 17 and 15 tackles respectively. Junior G/DT Matt Rupp also enjoyed a strong game collecting a team-high 2.5 decleaters and his first sack of the season. Ryan Nienhuis also stood out as he who averaged 20.5 yards on two punt returns, forced a fumble and registered eight tackles.