June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Big punt return, strong defense help Irvine rally past Portola in season opener

Irvine’s Brandon Figueroa scores one of his three touchdowns Friday night. (Photos courtesy Jim Tomlin, For OC Sports Zone).

Just when Irvine High School’s football team needed a lift, junior Brandon “Figgy” Figueroa provided it Friday night against Portola in the season opener for both teams at Portola.

Portola moved out to a 10-point lead early in the non-league game but Figueroa scored on an 8-yard TD run and then returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to put the Vaqueros ahead 13-10 at halftime.

Irvine went on to win 29-10 behind Figueroa, who rushed for 154 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns, two rushing.

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

“He was just unstoppable, spin right, spin left, juke, he was like a man possessed, he was going to get that touchdown no matter what,” said Irvine Coach Tom Ricci.

Figueroa credited his teammates.

“It was a great win, the line really carried right there,” said Figueroa, who wears jersey number zero. “They made amazing blocks and I was able to pop a couple through. It was a great first week of football.”

He was excited about the punt return too.

“It bounced, I located the ball, picked it up and I went outside, beat a guy, made a man miss and took it to the house,” he said.

Portola got a strong effort from quarterback Rocky Palacio, who passed for 236 yards. He had one interception.

He had a solid first half. In the second quarter Portola had the ball at the Irvine 14-yard line and on a fourth down play Palacio connected with Jahromi in the corner of the end zone for a TD.

Zain Alzobiedie kicked a 30-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs the early 3-0 lead.

Irvine’s defense stiffened against the pass and the rush in the second half and the offense clicked too.

Katrell May scored from 3 yards out in the third quarter to give Irvine a 20-10 lead. Then, Figueroa pretty much sealed the win when he bolted 21 yards for a score to make it 27-10.

Irvine added a safety in the final minutes on an errant snap to the punter, who recovered the ball in the end zone.

“We had a pretty good scheme going where we said if they’re not going to cover our receivers on the outside, we’re going to throw out there until they move outside and they’re we’re going to start hitting inside,” Ricci said. “Our linemen did a great job. Our line coach David Done had a great blocking scheme set up for this week.”

Ricci was also pleased with the play of quarterback Khoa Bui, who in his first start passed for 65 yards. Deacon Moss had two catches for 23 yards and also had a TD catch negated due to a penalty.

The game matched two crosstown rivals in a non-league game. The two teams are in different leagues within the Pacific Coast Conference.

“This has become a rivalry, just as much as Woodbridge,” Ricci said. “Our guys look at it that Portola is the one we got to take down.”

Jahromi was Portola’s leading receiver with 161 yards on eight catches.

An estimated 1,800 fans turned out for the game. There weren’t as many students, perhaps because school doesn’t start in Irvine until next week.

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