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St. Margaret's edged by Norte Vista in epic battle to the end

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO - Norte Vista had Eric Melesio. St. Margaret's had George Krantz, Ryan Cragun and a lot of heart.

The combination made for a wild CIF-SS Division 7 second-round playoff game Friday night, as Norte Vista outlasted the host Tartans, 62-56, to advance to next week's semifinals.

Melesio ran for 532 yards and scored his eighth touchdown of the game on a 72-yard run with 55 seconds left. The score capped a wild fourth quarter in which the lead changed hands twice and was tied, 56-56, on Chris Vartanian's 26-yard field goal for St. Margaret's with 1:47 left.

Norte Vista (10-2) got the ball at the 20 and Melesio, after first being stopped for 1 yard, took a pitch left and barely beat the last defender for the winning touchdown, getting tackled at the goal line.

"I was mad at him because he hit the hole wrong on the counter play," said Braves coach Don Batdorf. "I was yelling, here's where the hole is. I told him to bounce it out and that's when he broke it."

St. Margaret's still had time to move to the Norte Vista 24-yard line, but Krantz, the Tartans' quarterback, was sacked, then was intercepted by the Braves' Omar Godoy to seal the win.

St. Margaret's, the smallest school in Division 7 with a high school enrollment of 438, ended at 9-3.

"I've got to admit, I didn't think they'd be as tough as they were," said Batdorf. "St. Margaret's played their hearts out. I have more respect for their kids than ever before. I just gotta say wow and tip my hat to them."

The Tartans never led until taking a 53-49 lead on Krantz's 14-yard touchdown pass to Cragun with 6:49 left. That combination was the unstoppable offense for St. Margaret's, as Krantz hit 28 of 43 passes for 319 yards, with 14 of them going to Cragun for 167 yards and three touchdowns. Cragun also ran back kickoffs 94 and 77 yards for touchdowns.

"My hat's off to our kids, they played a great game," said St. Margaret's coach Stephen Barbee. "They're definitely outnumbered and a lot smaller, but they never gave up and we were right there at the end. I'm real proud of how they responded all season."

Melesio had 262 yards and four touchdowns by halftime. Norte Vista never trailed in the half but never led by more than 14 points either.

The Braves were up 7-0 just 13 seconds into the game on Isaiah Hughes' 7-yard interception return for a touchdown on the first play of the game.

Cragun returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and the scorefest was on. Norte Vista scored on its next four possessions -- all TD runs by Melesio -- but gave up its fifth on an interception by Cragun in the final seconds.

St. Margaret's came back with touchdown passes of 12 and 5 yards from Krantz to Cragun and Nick Krantz's 22-yard touchdown run that made it 35-28 at halftime.

In addition to his game-winning run, Melesio also scored on runs of 2, 61, 23, 15, 22, 43 and 70 yards. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound back has 3,914 rushing yards this season, ranking second in Inland area history.


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