June 14, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Laguna Hills keeps rolling with non-league road victory over Irvine

Kurtis Weber of Laguna Hills scores one of his three rushing TDs Thursday night. (Photos courtesy Jim Tomlin, For OC Sports Zone).

Laguna Hills High School’s football team had a season to remember in 2022, winning both CIF and state championships.

It’s looking like the 2023 season could be pretty special too.

The Hawks won their 13th in a row dating back to last season defeating Irvine 28-10 in a non-league game Thursday night at Irvine Stadium behind a high powered-defense, effective special teams performance and solid offensive effort.

“We’re very battle tested after last year and we’ve got a good group of seniors but we have a really strong group of juniors who have really plugged in the holes that we lost by graduation,” said Hawks Coach John Lester. “They really understand the system that we run, and for some of these kids, Coach (Bruce) Ingalls and I have coached them for four straight years. They really know our system well.”

Laguna Hills (5-0) was without its top running back Ryan McKevitt, who was out injured again but expected to return next week. But senior back John Ponce stepped up with another outstanding game, rushing for 57 yards on 18 carries and senior Kurtis Weber delivered with touchdown runs of 4, 7 and 5 yards.

“John Ponce has done a great job for us all year, he’s played in every game and right now, he’s carried the load for us basically the last three games,” Lester said. “Ryan got hurt early in the Lakewood game so John has been carrying the load and has done a great job for us. Weber has been a defensive specialist for us and we’re certainly using him more on offense this year. He wasn’t really a running back really until two weeks ago.”

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

Quarterback Ben Trocchio was solid, completing 8 of 16 passes for 101 yards and 35-yard TD to Jake Minotta late in the third quarter that put the Hawks ahead 28-3 culminating a time-consuming drive that took most of the stanza.

And, the defense, which included stellar efforts by Ryder Simmons (who had an interception leading to a score) and Will Hoss and Nate Hoss, put pressure on the Vaqueros all night.

“The defense I thought played great,” Lester said. “Irvine is a very good offensive team, they run power football and I thought our kids came out and matched them physically and certainly when it came time for them to pass the ball, I thought our pass rush was excellent tonight, it really caused problems for them.”

Irvine (3-2) was victimized by two fumbles and an interception and a Laguna Hills players was able to recover a kick-off in Irvine territory.

Two plays later, Weber scored from 7 yards out.

The Vaqueros were led by Brandon Figueroa, who had 77 yards on 18 carries and scored on a 3-yard TD run late in the game. Deacon Moss kicked a 29-yard field goal in the first quarter to put the Vaqueros ahead 3-0.

Laguna Hills put tremendous pressure on Irvine quarterback Khoa Bui, who passed for 43 yards

“I don’t know where those turnovers came from,” said Irvine Coach Tom Ricci. “We only had one coming into this game and all of a sudden we had four. We got a bye week coming up so we get back to the trying board and try to fix things. You can’t take anything away from Laguna (Hills). John does a great job with those kids and they came ready to play and we didn’t.

“We got to fix some of our mistakes and go into the Northwood game being solid, at least we got two weeks to do it.”

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