Western's Enrique Lopez, left, is brought down by Tustin's Richard Lujan during Friday's Empire League opener. Tustin won, 28-8.

Defense steps up when needed for depleted Tustin


ANAHEIM – It’s not always how well a team plays as much as how well it survives.

Tustin came into its Empire League opener at Western on Friday night with Utah-bound quarterback Alema Pilimai sidelined with a strained calf, as well as a few other starters who were held out or saw limited playing time.

The Tillers’ win wasn’t gaudy but it was stout. The defense held Western without a touchdown until the last two minutes and backup Sagel Simon played well in place of Pilimai in a 28-8 victory.

“We played real good defense until the end, and they held the ball for almost the entire fourth quarter,” Tillers coach Winter Wetz said. “We held a few guys out and didn’t play as well as we could, but I can’t be too unhappy to get a win.”

Tyler Nobel scored two touchdowns, the first a 65-yard run on the Tillers’ first play, and sophomore Simon completed 8 of 11 passes for 123 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown throw to Jonathan Di Maio.

The Tillers (5-1, 1-0 in league) started practice every day this week running the play they used to grab a quick 7-0 lead. Noble went in motion from the slot, took a handoff from Simon and turned the corner. He needed one cutback to complete the score.

“The coach thought that play would work, but I wasn’t sure it would be our first play of the game,” Noble said.

Western (1-5, 0-1) used three different quarterbacks in search of some rhythm and yardage. Enrique Lopez, who played well in relief in the second half last week, started and ran for 19 yards on nine caries and exited after suffering a shoulder injury.

Junior Jordan Adams, who returned after suffering an injury in the second game of the season, ran for 51 yards. Abraham Bojorquez also took a few snaps.

The Pioneers drove into Tustin territory on the first possession before turning the ball over on downs, and Nobel needed just one play to make it a 7-0 game.

Tustin’s offense sputtered the next two series, one leading to a Western safety. Backed up to their own nine, Lopez broke through the line and blocked K.C. Carr’s punt, the ball rolling out of the end zone for two-points and a 7-2 score.

Tustin put together a nice 10-play, 52-yard drive in the second quarter to make it 14-2. Simon completed three passes to Di Maio and Derek Soto had a 16-yard run to get to the Pioneers’ 3, Nobel scoring from there.

Tustin drove 58 yards on its first series of the second half to boost its lead to 21-2, Carr scoring from the 14.

Western drove 80 yards for a touchdown with 2:02 left, assisted by four Tustin penalties.

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