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Youthful Yorba Linda Confident Entering Football Showdown With Villa Park

Youthful Yorba Linda Confident Entering Football Showdown With Villa Park

Yorba Linda High School varsity football team enters the field for a game on Oct. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Emma Perron Photography)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

10/16/2023

Updated: 10/16/2023

YORBA LINDA, Calif.—Pulling off a successful encore after winning a CIF Southern Section Division 3 football championship is no mean feat, especially after having lost 16 starting players to graduation.
Things didn’t begin so well this season for Yorba Linda High School, with two losses in its first three games, but the Mustangs are right where they want to be entering a key Crestview League road test Oct. 20 against Villa Park.
After going 14–1 last season, with the lone loss to Liberty of Bakersfield in the Southern California Regional Division 1-A championship game, Yorba Linda is 6–2 following last week’s 58–7 demolition of visiting Brea Olinda in a Crestview League opener.
With only three games on the league schedule, the Mustangs’ 7 p.m. matchup with Villa Park at Fred Kelly Stadium in Orange looms critical. The Spartans were 7–0 before dropping a 22–21 decision to Foothill of Santa Ana last week.
No. 33, senior cornerback Jason Escovar, of the Yorba Linda High School varsity football team on Oct. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Emma Perron Photography)

No. 33, senior cornerback Jason Escovar, of the Yorba Linda High School varsity football team on Oct. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Emma Perron Photography)

“They’re an outstanding ball club,” Yorba Linda Coach Jeff Bailey told The Epoch Times. “We always have a barnburner with them. They’re going to be well-prepared, and probably a little mad from not winning [last] week. We expect their best, and want to give them our best.”
Many might be surprised the Mustangs are in position to compete for another league championship and potentially set the table for a repeat playoff run, especially given a series of injuries that has only added to the degree of difficulty.
Senior wide receiver and free safety Dylan Gardner, whom Mr. Bailey called “just a special player,” missed the game against Brea Olinda, for example, but is expected back this week.
Mr. Bailey, who previously coached El Dorado of Placentia to two CIF Southern Section championships and has won two at Yorba Linda, the first in 2016, knew it was going to be an entirely different challenge to follow up what last year’s team accomplished.
“One thing we stressed this year is you have to earn it again,” he said. “That team’s gone. We have youth. Even the returners, you have to re-commit and re-earn it. That was kind of what our message was. I think they’ve done a good job. The young kids have really performed, and they’ve gotten better every week. I don’t consider them young kids anymore.”
Among those who have seized opportunity this season is junior quarterback Holden Nagin, whom Mr. Bailey said has “had an outstanding year.”
Nagin, who led his team to a 41–0 lead over Brea Olinda in just more than a quarter of action, has completed 73.5 percent of his 136 passes this season, throwing for 1,285 yards and 19 touchdowns, with only three interceptions.
Yorba Linda High School varsity football players celebrate on the field on Oct. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Emma Perron Photography)

Yorba Linda High School varsity football players celebrate on the field on Oct. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Emma Perron Photography)

After getting most of the night off and watching freshman Noah Trujillo match his two touchdown passes last week, Nagin reflected on how far the Mustangs have come since dropping a 31-21 decision to still-unbeaten Damien of La Verne in their season-opener Aug. 18.
“Ever since then it’s just been forward from there,” Nagin told The Epoch Times. “We’ve just gotten better every single game, every single week. Everyone is getting more confident. Everyone is getting older, more experienced.”
The poster boy for the youth brigade is freshman Troy Roberts, who started last week and whose contributions have only added to a deep corps of receivers.
Gardner leads the way with 43 catches for 614 yards and five touchdowns, while senior Jake Winners also has five touchdown catches.
No. 28, senior running back Chase Jones, of the Yorba Linda High School varsity football team on Oct. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Emma Perron Photography)

No. 28, senior running back Chase Jones, of the Yorba Linda High School varsity football team on Oct. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Emma Perron Photography)

Senior Chase Jones, a transfer from Santa Margarita, leads the ground game with 668 yards and 10 touchdowns, and junior Cole Nerio has rushed for 403 yards and two scores.
“That’s kind of been our goal every year as an offense, to be balanced,” Mr. Bailey said.
The story is similar on the other side of the ball, where senior defensive tackle Joshua Grethen leads the team with 47 tackles, but seniors Owen Sahyoun and Blake Herrin, junior Shayne Wheeler, and sophomore Onassis Lim each have at least 38. Sahyoun has a team-high seven tackles for loss, including six quarterback sacks.
The unit is also capable of turning in big plays, as evidenced by a fumble recovery and four interceptions against Brea Olinda, one of which senior cornerback Jason Escovar returned for a touchdown. “It’s a good, sound defense that plays hard,” Mr. Bailey said. “It’s not like last year, where they were all returners and seniors. They’re dudes who have to work their [tails] off to play well. It’s fun to see young guys perform. You kind of develop them and they play well, and it’s exciting.”
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Dan Wood

Dan Wood

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Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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