JSerra's Casey Eugenio gets the ball just shy of the end zone during the second half of Friday's game against Trabuco Hills. JSerra won, 37-15.
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JSerra could be ready for big time after win


MISSION VIEJO – Grabbing the football spotlight in talent-rich South County isn't easy. There are traditional powers, marquee players and big-name coaches.

But upstart JSerra stormed onto center stage Friday by delivering its best performance.

The No. 7 Lions used a strong second half, the steady running of Casey Eugenio and three interceptions to defeat host No. 5 Trabuco Hills, 37-15, in a showdown between Pac-5 Division programs.

Wide receiver/cornerback Ethan Aguayo had two of the interceptions and also caught a touchdown.

JSerra (5-0) led, 14-7, at halftime before scoring 23 unanswered points against the Mustangs (4-2), who nearly upset Santa Margarita the previous week.

“We took a big step,” JSerra coach Jim Hartigan said. “It's a good win because they're potentially going to be a playoff team.”

But how long JSerra remains in the spotlight is now the question, and the Lions know it. Next week, they open play in the daunting Trinity League.

“We have to keep this (victory) in perspective,” said Hartigan, whose squad opens against Orange Lutheran -- another top-10 team in Orange County. “We have to get better. … (The Trinity) is truly a week-to-week league.”

Trabuco Hills opens South Coast League play next week at Tesoro.

The Lions' defense set the tone in the second half by forcing three three-and-out possessions and an interception on the first four Trabuco Hills possessions. The pressure gave JSerra's offense field possession on the Mustangs' side of the field each time.

JSerra got a 23-yard field goal by Jacob Capps and a 3-yard touchdown run by DJ Bailey in the third quarter to take a 23-7 lead.

Aguayo then grabbed his second interception with 1:08 left in the third to give JSerra the ball at the Trabuco Hills 30. Aguayo, a junior, nabbed the turnover as the Lions' defense scrambled to line up after coming onto the field apparently late following a timeout.

"That one hurts," Trabuco Hills' game announcer said. 

Eugenio later scored on a 1-yard run as the Lions opened a 30-7 lead less than two minutes into the fourth quarter. Eugenio, a senior, finished with 122 yards on 27 carries, most of which up the middle. He also had two receptions for 46 yards.

Bailey gave the Lions a 37-7 lead with a 5-yard TD run with 9:26 left in the fourth quarter. The junior's run capped an 18-yard drive after JSerra stopped a fake punt attempt.

JSerra quarterback Nick Robinson completed 14 of 20 passes for 164 yards and two TDs and also ran for 38 yards.

The Lions' defense limited Trabuco Hills to four first downs in the second half, and the final one came with 31 seconds left on Jimmy Jacobs' scramble and 71-yard TD pass to Connor O'Malley.

JSerra led, 14-7, at halftime behind two touchdown passes from Robinson. The junior capped a game-opening 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive by pitching to wide receiver Dante Pettis for a 9-yard touchdown.

After a sack by Bailey helped foil a Trabuco Hills drive into JSerra territory, Robinson drove the Lions 84 yards for another score.

Robinson gave the Lions a 14-0 lead by sticking in the pocket to throw a 23-yard by touchdown pass to Aguayo with 8:37 left in the second quarter. Robinson released the ball as he was hit by Trabuco Hills lineman Nick Leduc.

But Trabuco Hills capitalized on two key penalties by JSerra to close the gap before halftime.

After an interception by Eugenio’s brother, David Eugenio, at the Trabuco Hills 26, Robinson had an 8-yard TD run nullified by a penalty. The Lions then missed a field goal, setting stage for the Mustangs to drive 80 yards for a 2-yard TD run by quarterback Tommy Kelley on fourth-and-goal with 4:10 left in the first half. 

Trabuco Hills' drive was initially kept alive by a personal foul against JSerra on a punt. The Mustangs' Chris Reck also sparked the march with a 28 yard run to the Lions 24.

Hartigan mentioned penalties as an area his team needs to improve on.

Yes, the Lions will need to be even better in the Trinity League. But with Friday's victory, they could start the trek ranked higher in the county, perhaps even closer to South County powers Mission Viejo and Santa Margarita.

Bailey, a rising junior, finished with a sack and a tackle for loss. Trabuco Hills linebacker Matt Wood recorded three tackles for losses.

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