Few in the area match the pregame ambiance of East Union High home football games.
In the school’s 2011 opener Friday a new feature added to the pageantry: 14 roaring Harley Davidsons that, along with the band’s always-entertaining drum line, welcomed the Lancers to Dino Cunial Field in front of what was announced to be the largest crowd for a football game in 25 years.
Then sophomore Steven Sanchez and the rest of the Orestimba Warriors stole the show.
The 5-foot-7, 160-pound running back was unstoppable in the first half, and quarterback Dillon Martins threw two touchdown passes — one on fourth and long — to Ernie Esquivez in Orestimba’s 28-15 victory.
Sanchez finished with 138 yards on 25 rushes, while Martins completed 12 of 19 passes for 166 yards to keep East Union off balance. Sanchez rambled for 97 of those yards in the first half, besting East Union’s 62 total yards of offense.
East Union had a breakout effort from a promising sophomore of its own, as quarterback Joe Menzel led the team to two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to make things interesting.
Ultimately, it was the Warriors’ ball-control offense that decided it. They scored easily on their first two drives of the game, and in the third quarter Orestimba ran 19 plays from scrimmage to EU’s seven.
“At the start of the game they came out swinging,” East Union’s Willie Herrera said after his first game as head coach. “It’s like those (mixed-martial arts) fights when a guy throws so many punches that you just can’t see them coming.
“It took us a little over a half for us to finally get our eyes cleared. When you get punched in the nose you have trouble seeing for a while.”
East Union gained valuable, and much-needed, experience in the defeat. With fullback/linebacker Tyler Hardesty sidelined with a bruised knee, the Lancers were left with just three returning starters on the field.
But as the game wore on, East Union began to take control on both sides of scrimmage.
Enter Menzel, who made an impossible comeback look very possible in the fourth quarter.
“Joe Menzel grew up tonight,” Herrera said.
Orestimba, which dropped its zero-week contest 27-6 to Livingston last week, appeared to be on its way to a rout late in the first half and had Menzel to thank.
After a costly holding penalty wiped away a first-down pass, Menzel, on second-and-14 from EU’s 14, threw an ill-advised pass directly to Nathan Martin, who returned the interception 25 yards to paydirt and ran through a tackle attempt from the Lancer signal caller at the goal line.
That made it 21-3 Orestimba with 2:23 remaining.
Undeterred, East Union’s passing attack got rolling in the fourth quarter.
Menzel hooked up with T.J. Williams and Mark Aguilar for 8- and 4-yard touchdowns to close the Lancers in and finished 20 of 33 for 204 yards.
East Union missed out on a third opportunity to score in the final stanza.
After Menzel hit Williams in the back of the end zone with 7:03 left, Orestimba fumbled on the first play of the next drive and East Union linebacker Zak Lewallen came up with the loose ball on the Warrior 11.
On second down, Menzel nearly connected with Williams for a second TD strike, but the athletic wide out couldn’t hold onto it on the way down from a jump-ball toss. Williams rolled his left ankle on the play, hampering EU’s chances for the rest of the series.
East Union came up a yard short on the drive, as running back Steven Gigli was stopped shy of the first-down marker on the 1 ½-yard line.
“I was really nervous today this being our first game, but I’ve got to do better,” Menzel said. “We drove the ball a couple of times, but we just need to stick it in when we get chances in the red zone.
“We had a lot of third-and-shorts that we missed on. We’re going to get better and we’re going to come back next week (against Bear Creek at home) ready to play.”