When the pressure mounts and the game is on the line, placekicker Jeremy Esparza wants a shot.
In fact, anytime his team crosses the 50-yard-line, he wants a shot to kick the ball through the uprights.
“He's always one to tell me he's in range, every game of the year. 'Coach, I'm in range! Coach, I'm in range!” Mustangs coach Dan Hartman said. “Me and him really spent some time together over on the field, seeing what his range really was.
Against Alleman High School on Friday night, Esparza got his chance to show his range when it mattered most. After calmly striding onto the field with 12.4 seconds left in Class 4A second-round playoff game, Esparza punched in the biggest kick of his career with a 28-yard game-winning field goal
“I was just zoning everyone out, thinking about getting the kick down and getting it through,” Esparza said.
"We haven't had to use him a whole lot during the year,” Hartman said. “We knew we'd eventually have to. I mean, what can you say? The kid stepped up big. … I was real proud of him and our long snaps from our center, [Blake] Cermak, were perfect. It was a total team effort (Friday night).”
Esparza's field goal was set up by sophomore wide receiver Jacquet McClendon's 31-yard reception from quarterback Brandon White. The jump-ball pass was McClendon's fourth catch of the night and proved that the varsity hoops player has earned his spot on the gridiron.
“I don't know what to say really; he just made some plays,” Hartman said of McClendon. “Some of the coverage on him wasn't even bad coverage, he just went up and got those balls.”
“If I'm called upon, I'm going to do my job,” McClendon said. “You can thank [basketball] coach [Pat] Flannigan for [my jump-ball skills].”
Evergreen Park improved to 8-3 on the season and advances to next weekend’s quarterfinal round. The Mustangs will face top-seeded Richmond-Burton, which beat Mendota 37-19 on Saturday.