ORANGE — The El Modena football team is no stranger to closely-contested games.
The Vanguards found themselves in another tight one Friday night, but they prevailed with Sam Astor’s 22-yard, go-ahead touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to defeat Aliso Niguel 20-15 at El Modena High.
Astor was held without a catch in the first half so El Modena coach Matt Mitchell made it a point to get Astor more involved in the second half.
“We talked at halftime, we gotta get the ball to Sam (Astor),” Mitchell said, “and we figured a thing or two out with Sam and got the ball to him and got him going.”
Three of El Modena’s four games have been been decided by one score. The Vanguards (3-1) had a 19-14 win over Santa Ana and a 17-15 loss to Sunny Hills before their five-point win over the Wolverines (3-2).
El Modena QB Jack Keays is hyped after the win over Aliso Niguel. Keays (1 pass TD, 1 rush TD) gave praise to his teammates until the end of the interview. @ocvarsity @elmodenafb @KeaysJackson @elmorowdyrooter pic.twitter.com/7D2Ke6LNoX
— David Delgado (@DavidDelgado_OC) September 18, 2021
Vanguards quarterback Jack Keays threw a touchdown pass and ran for a score, and their special teams also played a crucial role in the outcome.
Alex Luna scored the first touchdown on a fake field goal.
Mitchell said the play is designed to have the holder, Luna, throw a pass downfield, but Luna didn’t find an open receiver or any room at all going to his left, so he quickly reversed field and went to his right. He made his way all the way across the field, picking up nice blocks along the way, for a 19-yard touchdown run.
“I didn’t think we would score on our special teams, a touchdown on a scramble play, and then they block a kick for a touchdown,” Mitchell said. “It’s high school football at its best you know, and you try to coach every aspect it.”
The blocked kick Mitchell referred to was a 25-yard field goal attempt that was swatted away by the Wolverines and then scooped up by Jaden Beisel for a 70-yard return that made the game 7-6 at halftime.
Instead of a 10-0 advantage for the Vanguards at the break, they found themselves clinging to a slim lead in the second half.
In the third, Keegan Shone’s field goal gave Aliso Niguel a 9-7 lead then Keays scored on a 10-yard run on El Modena’s next drive for a 14-9 advantage.
The Wolverines responded when Shaun McCaghren found Christian Aaberg for a 36-yard TD pass with 8:19 left in the fourth to go up 15-14. Aliso Niguel was stopped on the 2-point attempt.
The Vanguards’ next possession ended in a punt but the defense made a big play to get that ball back as Zac Brehm forced a fumble and recovered it as well, his second recovery of the game.
That set up Keays for the eventual game-winning pass. He hit Astor on a slant, the receiver found a seam in the Aliso Niguel defense and raced across the goal line.
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