June 25, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Big defensive play helps lift undefeated Tustin past Crean Lutheran

Tustin linebacker Tim Ioane intercepts a trick play pass and returns the ball 45 yards for a TD late in the second quarter as Crean Lutheran running back Taurian Nash attempts to catch up. (Photos: Fernando M. Donado, For OC Sports Zone).

Tustin High School’s football team remained undefeated and kept its hopes alive for an Empire League title defeating Crean Lutheran 21-0 Friday night in front of an estimated 1,800 fans at Crean Lutheran.

The Tillers (8-0, 3-0) used a swarming defense to slow down a high powered Crean Lutheran offense, which scored 70 points in its first two league games. Crean Lutheran (6-2, 2-1) and Tustin came into the game tied for first place with Cypress (5-3, 3-0).

The biggest play of the game came in the second quarter when the Tillers’ Tim Ioane intercepted a pass on a trick play and returned it 45 yards for a score to put the Tillers ahead 14-0.

“That was a really big play for us,” said Tustin Coach Anthony Lopez. “Our defense played amazing tonight, they did a great job, I’m very proud of them, their offense is really good.”

Tustin held Crean Lutheran, which had been a solid running team, to under 50 yards rushing. The Tillers have allowed only seven points in three league games and notched two shutouts.

To see the slide show, click on the first photo:

Tillers quarterback Jack Stupin was effective, passing for 185 yards and two touchdown passes, a 19-yard pass to Marques Guzman in the first quarter and a 57-yard TD pass to MacKenzie Alleyne in the fourth quarter that sealed the win.

The Tillers also got strong production from running back Elmesse Essis, who helped Tustin get into scoring position rushing for 155 yards. Alleyne had three catches for 68 yards.

“Offensively, we knew they were going to give us a little bit of trouble,” Lopez said. “They did a great job defensively. We needed an ugly game like that because we hadn’t had one yet offensively, so it was good.”

Crean Lutheran quarterback Jeremiah Finaly led his team offensively with 127 yards passing and Luke Doyle four catches for 26 yards but the lack of a running game hurt the Saints. Troy Hill and Ben Byszewski had interceptions in the first half for the Saints.

“I thought we played really well defensively,” said Crean Lutheran Coach Rick Curtis. “Offensively, we really had trouble. Their defense is really good, we just couldn’t run the ball like we wanted to and loosen them up a little bit. That was frustrating and we had the pick six that really hurt us,.

“That was kind of a trick play, it looked like it was going to go good the other way and next thing you know it’s going their way. But they’re a great football team and they do a good coaching job. But I was really proud of the way our kids played tonight, they played really hard and hit hard.”

Crean Lutheran can still share the league title but needs to defeat Cypress next Saturday at Western.

“We have a big game next week,” Curtis said. “We’re still in the run for a league championship, we have to beat Cypress and Cypress has to beat Tustin and force a three-way tie. That’s what we’re hoping for right now. We have to stay focused, we got a good football team, I’m proud of them.”

Tustin has league games remaining vs. Pacifica Friday and Friday, Oct. 27 vs. Cypress at Tustin. Tustin shared the league title with Cypress and Pacifica in 2021.

“One week at a time,” Lopez said. “Playoffs are coming up pretty soon here but wherever we land, we land, but we want to win every game and strive for that 10-0 season and league championship.”

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—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com