El Modena's AJ Esperanza runs with the ball as Foothill's Ezekiel Saldana grabs on in the first half of Friday night's game at Tustin High.

Defense bails out Foothill in victory over El Modena


TUSTIN – Defense has been a reliable unit for Foothill this season, and the Knights leaned on those 11 players more than ever Friday night.

They came through with what amounted to a shutout in a 14-7 victory over El Modena in a nonleague game at Tustin High, bailing out an offense that committed five turnovers.

“All season long they’ve been playing great and keeping us in ballgames,” Foothill coach Doug Case said of the defense.

Even more impressive was its best defensive player, Cal-bound nose tackle Chris Yaghi, who was limited due to the flu, but still kept El Modena sophomore quarterback A.J. Esperanza under pressure all night.

The Knights (5-2) were tested even more in the fourth quarter after El Modena turned Foothill’s fourth turnover into a 48-yard fumble-return touchdown by linebacker Gio Peralta, cutting the deficit to 14-7 with 8:07 left.

“We’re trying to put the game away and we didn’t take care of the ball there,” Case said.

Foothill turned the ball over again on its next possession when quarterback Preston Moebius was stripped of the ball just before he attempted to pass. El Modena recovered and drove to the Knights’ 21-yard line, but a fumbled snap gave the ball back to Foothill.

After the Knights punted the ball back to the Vanguards with 3:31 left, their defensive line continued its heavy pressure, and Ed Bain intercepted a sideline throw by Esperanza with 1:57 left.

El Modena (4-3) managed just 8 total yards in a sloppy first half, which ended with Foothill on top, 14-0.

Both teams turned the ball over on their opening possessions and the Vanguards twice had snaps sail over the head of Esperanza, resulting in a combined loss of 32 yards and killing both drives.

Foothill was aided by two pass-interference penalties on its second possession, the latter on fourth-and-9 from the El Modena 28. That moved the ball to the 14-yard line and Moebius then passed to Chris Reem for their fourth touchdown connection of the season.

The Knights tacked on another touchdown just before halftime when tight end Ryan Munck got behind the defense down the right sideline and made a nice over-the-shoulder catch for a 43-yard touchdown with 41 seconds left in the half.

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