Santa Margarita coach Harry Welch talks with his players after the Eagles' 27-15 victory over Orange Lutheran on Friday night at Orange Coast College.

Week 6 spotlight: Coaches' returns make night special

Fryer column: Checking in on two coaches battling cancer, big games and interesting results.


Harry Welch had a ball. Literally.

When the final seconds ticked off the game clock at Orange Coast College, and Santa Margarita's 27-15 victory over Orange Lutheran was complete, referee Bob Yoakum walked over to Santa Margarita coach Welch, shook Welch's hand and gave him the game ball.

A lot of people who could not root for Santa Margarita could not help but root for Welch – opposing coaches, game officials, even sportswriters. He underwent prostate cancer surgery last week. As soon as he found out he had prostate cancer, back in August, Welch made his plight public and searched out every way he could to spread his message that men absolutely must get screened for prostate cancer ASAP or sooner.

University coach Mark Cunningham returned to the sidelines, too, Friday. Cunningham has endured a long, difficult battle with throat cancer. While his return was cause for a great celebration that brought many former players, ex-Irvine coach Terry Henigan and current Woodbridge coach Rick Gibson to the University game against Irvine at Irvine High, the result, a 13-2 loss, was not the comeback Cunningham preferred.

Welch looked and sounded good Friday, but he has a long way to go and he knows it. There is a song about living every day like it's your last, and Welch is doing that. The postgame greetings he got from Lutheran coach Jim Kunau and the Lancers coaching staff, and the way Santa Margarita players responded Friday night, melted his heart.

"I'm glad you weren't down here," Welch said to someone who called, cell phone to cell phone, from the top of the OCC press box. "You would have seen me cry."

Yes, the tough old coach, the one with eight CIF-Southern Section and two CIF State championships, has gone a bit softer. But his team is hardening.

Every league game has a sense of urgency to it, especially so in the Trinity League, of which four of its six members are in the Orange county Top 10 (and Trinity school St. John Bosco is not eligible for the county Top 10 because it is a Los Angeles County school). The Trinity League is in the Pac-5 playoff divisions, which has no at-large berth – in the Pac-5's Serra, South Coast, Sunset and Trinity Leagues, all six-team leagues, only the top three finishers go to the playoffs, and only the top four go to the playoffs from the seven-team Moore League.

So Santa Margarita-Orange Lutheran was a huge game. So was St. John Bosco of Bellflower-Mater Dei, won by Mater Dei, on Thursday. And so was Servite-JSerra on Friday.

There was little chance that JSerra could pull off an upset of Servite. The Lions did score first for the early lead, but Servite rolled to a 41-7 victory. JSerra is getting better, but still has a long journey of improvement ahead before the Lions (5-1 overall, 0-1 in league) can beat a Servite (6-0, 1-0) or a Mater Dei (4-2, 1-0).

Who can beat Servite? Maybe Mater Dei on Oct. 29 at Angel Stadium. Maybe Santa Margarita. But the top candidate is, of course, Mission Viejo.

The Diablos trailed for the first time all season Friday when they played Dana Hills in the South Coast League opener for both. Then, they turned it on and swiped Dana Hills out of their way, 52-26. The strength and versatility of the Mission offense could have the Diablos (6-0, 1-0) scoring over 50 points in every league game.

In another South Coast game, San Clemente struggled with Trabuco Hills for a half before pulling away to win 43-19.

Mission Viejo has a bye next week, then plays at San Clemente on Oct. 29.

Another team that looks like it could score 50 a night: Tustin. The Tillers rolled over Western, 55-0, in an Empire League game.

Tustin is 6-1 overall and 3-0 in league. Cypress is 6-0, 3-0. Those two play each other Nov. 5.

Cypress got to 3-0 by beating Kennedy, 29-14. Kennedy had a 14-7 lead. You have to like a team that catches up and then pulls away like Cypress did against Kennedy, and Cypress did it without one of its top players, running back Vincent Rivera.

La Habra went 2-3 in nonleague games, and dropped out of its early position in the county Top 10. Those three losses were to Trinity League teams – Orange Lutheran, Servite and St. John Bosco. The Highlanders played those teams because that type of competition can get a team ready to go when league rolls around, and indeed La Habra beat Fullerton decisively, 44-10.

La Habra could go 5-0 in the Freeway League. It is difficult to imagine any team going undefeated in the Empire or Trinity leagues. Those leagues are so competitive, every victory is important.

Santa Margarita's victory over Orange Lutheran was important in the standings, and special to the man standing on the sidelines, Coach Harry Welch.

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