East County Sports

Tenacious Cougars win 3-A regional title

Steele Canyon celebrates following its win Saturday night.

Steele Canyon players celebrate in the fourth quarter Saturday night. / photo Orange County Register



Steele Canyon and El Modeno battle for a pass on Saturday night. / photo by Orange County News Group

By Ramon Scott



ORANGE – In a state regional championship game with little margin for error, the Steele Canyon Cougars came out on top of the host El Modeno Vanguards, 28-26, to earn a berth in the CIF State Division 3-A title game next week.

Four different Cougars scored on offense under the direction of All-CIF San Diego Section second team quarterback THOMAS FISHBURNE.

And the scores seemed to come in response each time El Mo scored to get within a point or two.

The Cougars forced an early fumble – which would be the only turnover of the game – on third down, then moments later opened the scoring in the first quarter on a 5-yard run from PERRY STEELE.

Early in the second quarter, the Vanguards were the beneficiary of some good field position at the Cougars’ 41 following a short punt.

El Modeno’s Andrew Carvajal had a couple of strong runs, finally taking the ball into the end zone from 1-yard out with 10:40 left in the second quarter for a nine-play drive. The PAT failed and the score was 7-6.

The Cougars’ DEONTAE MCKINNEY gave Steele its second score just past midway through the second stanza, as he scored on a 13-yard run. The 10-play, 76-yard drive, which included a 44-yard completion to Steele, gave Steele a 14-6 lead.

Steele Canyon’s DARIN WALTON had two sacks to force a turnover on downs on El Mo’s final series of the first half.

Walton finished with six tackles in the first half.

After SC went 3-and-out to open the second half, Carvajal went to running again, this time picking up a first down on a fourth-and-long rush of eight years, then he caught a 7-yard TD pass from A.J. Esparanza with 6:20 left in the third to make the score 14-12.

Steele Canyon’s THOMAS FISHBURNE is tackled Saturday night. / photo Orange County News Group

A two-point try was unsuccessful.

The Cougars’ KENNETH WATSON rushed into the pile and came up with a couple of big gains to move Steele on its next series.

Then Fishburne found his favorite targer in JORDAN ANDERSON for a 13-yard score with :13 left in the third to answer another El Mo TD.

Esparanza had a 45-yard run to get El Modena into scoring position, then he took it 13 more yards down to the three as the quarter ended.

Carvajal put the finishing touches on the drive with 11:21 left in the game for his third score.

But the Cougars offense seemed to take it personally when the Vanguards scored on their ‘D”.

Fishburne rushed for 22 yards then hit RANDY JORDAN for a 29-yard pass to get inside the Vanguard 10.

On a fourth-and-goal try, Watson stiff armed his way to the end zone with 8:25 left, giving the Cougars a 28-19 lead.

This time, El Mo (12-3) countered with a strong response to put the game in a dramatic balance for the final minutes.

Esperanza had a 16-yard TD to pull within two.

The Cougars turned the ball over on downs after moving down to the El Mo 23 with 3:23 left.

However, Steele Canyon made the stand in Vanguard territory, taking over the ball on the 33.

From there, the Cougs ran out the clock and ran off with the regional championship award.

Fishburne had 218 yards of total offense, including 75 yards rushing in the second half.

San Diego Section Division 2 champion Steele Canyon (11-4) advances to the state division title game against the winner of the Northern California regional final, Half Moon Bay (14-0).

The Cougars will play host to the game on Saturday at 6 p.m. at a site to be determined.


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