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KYUSUNG GONG, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
El Modena's Dillon Keefe reaches out for extra inches to score a TD during a nonleague game against Foothill.

Surging El Modena finally beats Foothill

STAFF WRITER

ORANGE – El Modena didn’t just maintain its momentum Thursday.

The Vanguards built speed for the upcoming North Hills League.

Justin Simpson caught a touchdown and recorded one of two interceptions by El Modena, and AJ Esperanza threw two TDs as the No. 18 Vanguards beat visiting No. 17 Foothill for the first time since 2009 with a 28-9 nonleague victory.

El Modena (6-1) will open league next week against El Dorado riding a three-game winning streak and the momentum from one of its best performances.

“We definitely (built) that tonight,” said El Modena coach Matt Mitchell, whose squad finished 3-1 against Crestview teams. “(But) we’re still working. That’s all we do. We just come to work everyday and we’re just going to keep getting better and better.”

Simpson, a junior, caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Esperanza on fourth-and-10 on the opening possession of the second half as the Vanguards, ranked third in Division 8, built a 28-6 lead.

Simpson also made a first-half interception that led to a touchdown. He is the brother of former Servite quarterback Aaron Simpson.

Sophomore Collin Keefe, brother of El Modena standout senior Dillon Keefe, also contributed to the younger brothers theme by returning an interception 15 yards for a first-half TV.

Simpson and Collin Keefe each scored their first touchdowns.

“We’re just trying to make our names known just as well as our brothers,” Simpson said.

Collin Keefe added, “(Our brothers) also push us to do better.”

El Modeno snappedFoothill’s five-game winning streak by limiting the Knights (5-2) to three field goals by Andrew Robles and a 5-for-16 effort on third down. The Vanguards’ forced a 23-yard field on the first possession of the game after Foothill drove for a first-and-goal at the 6. El Modena’s defense later held for a 27-yard field goal with 4:56 left in the half.

Foothill quarterback Bobby Garcia (86 yards) took a hard hit in the first half and didn’t return because of precautionary reasons, said Knights coach Doug Case.

“They’ve got it going on a little bit and the Knights need to get healthy,” said Case, whose team has endured several injures. “Had we scored (touchdowns) those two times in the red zone in the first half, it might have been a different story.”

El Modena used a quick-strike offense and two interceptions in the first quarter to open a 21-3 lead.

In their first possession, the Vanguards covered 85 yards in two plays. Tight end JP Walker snuck into the secondary uncovered to cap the drive with a 34-yard TD reception from Esperanza.

Dillon Keefe set up the score with 46-yard run after a 5-yard penalty against Foothill.

On the ensuing possession, Collin Keefe intercepted a short, third-down screen and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead with 4:19 in the first quarter.

A sack by El Modena’s Angel Alcala on second down backed up Foothill.

Simpson intercepted a deflected a pass about two minutes later, returning the ball 28 yards to the Foothill 39. Seven plays later, Keefe powered for a 4-yard TD run and 21-3 lead.

Contact the writer: dalbano@scng.com


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