Estancia High School did just enough to scratch and claw its way to a 20-14 victory over the Capitan Tigers last Friday in the Bears’ home-opener.

“We’ve played 16 quarters this year and only three have been acceptable,” Estancia head coach Stewart Burnett said of the Bears’ inconsistencies.

The two-time defending state-champions—playing in front of their hometown fans for the first time this season after three consecutive road games—tallied touchdowns by Josh Thomas, Moises Anaya, and Zeke Tapia, only to let the Tigers get back in the game by the fourth quarter.

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BACK HOME! Estancia’s Isaiah Chavez skirting the sideline during the Bears home opening victory last Friday. For story and more sports, see page 11. Photo by G. Demarest.

“We didn’t sustain it, and [the Tigers] are scrappy,” Burnett said. “But we weathered some storms and we won a close game.”

It took just two plays for the Bears to get on the board during their opening drive: on second-down-and-8 from their own 37-yard line quarterback Isaiah Chavez tossed a short screen pass to Thomas, who scampered down the sideline for a 63-yard touchdown.

“We wanted to come after [the Tigers] with a little spark,” Burnett said. “We knew they’d never seen that screen—that’s only the second time in five years we’ve ran it and it’s worked great both times so it’s a nice little gem that we have.”

The Bears hadn’t used that screen pass since their opening drive of the 2014 state championship game against Clayton.

In the second quarter Estancia mounted a 12-play drive that nearly stalled inside Capitan’s red zone—the area inside an opponent’s 20-yard line.

The Bears were facing fourth-down-and-6 when Chavez threw what would’ve been his second touchdown pass of the game, but it was nullified by a holding penalty. The drive appeared to be over when Chavez threw an incomplete pass on the next play.

But the Tigers were flagged for a personal foul—unnecessary roughness on Chavez—and the Bears got a do-over. That paved the way for Moises Anaya’s 10-yard plunge into the end zone to give the Bears a 14-0 lead at halftime.

Early in the second half the Bears stopped a Capitan drive by recovering a Tigers fumble. Eight plays later Tapia trucked into the end zone to give the Bears a 20-0 cushion by the middle of the third quarter.

“Those guys [Estancia’s offensive linemen] gave me that block and I had to finish it for them,” said Tapia, who amassed 168 yards rushing on 27 carries.

“Zeke’s putting together a really nice season,” Burnett added.

But Capitan rallied for a pair of touchdowns to cut the Bears’ lead to 6 with 5:01 remaining in the game.

It took the Bears’ tireless ground game—mostly on the legs of Tapia—to burn off the remaining time on the clock and hold on for the win.

“We had them on the ropes and we let them back in—we’ve gotta do it for a complete game,” Burnett told his players after the game, knowing that the schedule doesn’t get any easier over the next few weeks.

The Bears host the always-tough Santa Rosa Lions on Friday and undefeated Dexter the week after. Estancia then plays new district rival McCurdy.

“We’ve got a few huge tests coming up—the next three games will affect everything down the line,” Burnett said. “We’ve just gotta keep working.”