PUBLISHED: August 18, 2022 at 11:15 p.m. | UPDATED: August 21, 2022 at 5:46 p.m.
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TUSTIN — Capistrano Valley and Tustin opened the high school football season Thursday night with several new players vying for the spotlight.
An established standout had other ideas.
Senior dual-threat quarterback Trey Kukuk rushed for 193 yards and four touchdowns — both career highs — and tossed a score to lead the No. 15-ranked Cougars past the No. 17 Tillers 45-13 at Tustin High.
Capistrano Valley’s Brayden Saavedra, top, carries the ball up field against Tustin defenders during Thursday night’s varsity football matchup in Tustin August, 18, 2022. (Photo by Greg Andersen, Contributing Photographer)
The Cougars’ defense forced three fumbles, including two by sophomore outside linebacker Reily Walker, to set up two of the scores and help Capistrano Valley avenge a 35-34 loss in overtime to Tustin in the teams’ 2021 opener.
Capistrano Valley’s offensive and defensive lines, considered question marks entering the season, also made statements but Kukuk dominated by rushing for three second-half touchdowns, including a 90-yarder.
“That quarterback is something else,” Tustin coach Anthony Lopez said of Kukuk, who led the state last season with 4,157 total yards. “Elusiveness. That’s really what it was. We had him in some third-down situations and the kid just went, ‘I’m going to get to the sticks and get a first down.’ He had a couple good throws.”
Kukuk passed for 235 yards but did his damage with his feet in the second half. After Walker recovered a fumble at the Tustin 40 early in the third, Kukuk capped a short drive with a 5-yard TD run to give the Cougars a 24-13 lead.
Junior linebacker Jackson Sievers sparked Capistrano Valley on the next possession, recording a sack on fourth down to give the Cougars the ball at their 38. Kukuk capped the ensuing drive with an 11-yard TD scramble for a 31-13 lead with 3:39 left in the quarter.
Kukuk delivered the knockout blow with a 90-yard TD run in the final seconds of the third as he broke free on a zone-read play that feature excellent blocking by wide receivers Brayden Saavedra and Hudson Campbell.
“They laid two huge blocks and obviously the linemen held their bargain,” Kukuk said. “They had a great game.”
Tustin debuted a trio of key transfers in quarterback Jack Stupin, from Millikan, and wide receivers/defensive backs Jordan Castro and Quincy Hankins, both from Huntington Beach.
Capistrano Valley featured a new-look wide receiver corps seeking to pick of the slack for Dane Benedix, who is a few weeks away from returning from a knee injury.
The game briefly felt similar to the teams’ season-opener last August.
Tustin surged late in the first half to trim Capistrano Valley’s lead to 17-13. Stupin tossed a 14-yard TD pass to Hankins on the final play of the half, capitalizing on Hankins’ 87-yard interception return out of the end zone.
Capistrano Valley opened a 17-6 lead in the second quarter as Kukuk showcased his dual-threat abilities.
He scrambled to his right and tossed an 80-yard TD to wide receiver Hunter Napoleon, a transfer from Washington who broke a tackle near midfield en route to the end zone.
Kukuk later scored on a 16-yard TD run along the sideline after a fumble recover by Walker at the Tustin 31.
Kukuk finished with 428 total yards, seemingly picking up where he left off last season.
“He’s faster. He’s quicker. He’s bigger. He’s better,” Capistrano Valley coach Sean Curtis said. “That guy needs to be playing college next year. Somebody needs to come find him because they’re going to find a steal.
“He’s the best football player I’ve ever coached.”
Curtis also praised the play of the Cougars’ retooled offensive line featuring five new starters: sophomore left tackle Michael Sturdivant, senior left guard Dejan Debrilovic, sophomore center Gavin Disbro, senior right guard Andrew Moebius and junior right tackle Damian Gonzalez. Christian Banuelos helped lead the defensive line, Curtis said.
“We’re just super-excited about o-line, d-line and how they played,” Curtis said, “and how they were kind of overlooked in this matchup but they were definitely the difference.”
Next week, Tustin plays host to rival Foothill while Capistrano Valley takes on Sunny Hills at Buena Park.