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ED CRISOSTOMO , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Orange Lutheran's Lj Northington eludes Santa Margarita's Matthew Mark during a first-half touchdown run at Orange Coast College.

Northington, Orange Lutheran frustrate Santa Margarita

STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA – Lj Northington and Austin Liles ran with an extra burst on offense. Their defense and special teams delivered turnovers and big plays with a promptness worthy of the occasion.

Third-ranked Orange Lutheran sensed the opportunity Friday night in the Trinity League and grabbed it despite a late trick play from No. 4 Santa Margarita.

Northington rushed for three touchdowns and tossed an 80-yard score to Liles, and the Lancers forced four turnovers en route to a 28-14 victory at Orange Coast College.

Orange Lutheran (5-3, 2-1) also blocked a punt as it bolstered its playoff chances by moving into a second-place tie with Mater Dei (7-1, 2-1), one game behind first-place St. John Bosco (8-0, 3-0) with two games remaining in league. The Lancers play host to the defending Trinity champion Braves on Thursday at Orange Coast College.

“We knew this was a big game,” said Northington, who rushed for 104 yards and passed for 152 yards. “We wanted to come in here and make a statement tonight, and I think we did.”

POSTGAME TALK: How Orange Lutheran ran past Santa Margarita

The Lancers’ defense handled the return of quarterback KJ Costello from an ankle injury and then kept their poise when the Eagles (5-3, 1-2) inserted junior Richard Wagner for the fourth quarter after an interception by the Lancers’ Jordan Williams late in the third.

“We just felt we needed a spark and we thought Richard could run a little bit more and he did,” said Santa Margarita coach Rick Curtis. “(Costello) played hard. He was a little rusty. … Their defense played very well.”

On Santa Margarita’s first possession with Wagner at quarterback, the Eagles scored on a 65-yard reverse-pass by wide receiver Noah Rasheed to Grant Calcaterra. Rasheed also took a reverse on the 2-point conversion and connected with Alec Stewart as the Eagles trimmed the Lancers’ lead to 21-14 with about 10 minutes left.

Santa Margarita missed a 33-yard field goal with 6:02 left that could have drawn it within 21-17. Two plays later, Northington threw from his 20 over the middle to Liles, who turned up field near the Eagles 45 and eluded at least two tacklers for an 80-yard score and a 28-14 lead with 5:02 left in the fourth.

Linebacker TJ Augustin had two sacks and recovered a fumble for the Lancers. Early in the third, Xavier Steele blocked a punt that the Lancers recovered at Santa Margarita’s 32, setting up a 20-yard TD run by Northington for a 14-6 lead.

Northington scored on an 8-yard TD run later in the third after a forced fumble and recovery by Augustin.

Orange Lutheran used a goal-line stand on the final play of the first half to preserve a 7-6 lead.

“Our defense, I was really proud of them,” Orange Lutheran coach Chuck Petersen said. “And Lj, our kids believe in him.”

Orange Lutheran also protected its 7-6 midway through the second quarter as Scean Mustin recovered a fumble on a sack at his 29.

But Santa Margarita also recovered its own fumble in the first half for a huge play. Chris Leivici returned a fumble 66 yards to the Lancers 1 early in the second quarter, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Matt Mark from the Wildcat. The PAT failed. 

Costello didn't play last week in the Eagles' victory against JSerra but completed 21 of 30 passes -- mostly short sideline routes -- for 202 yards.

Contact the writer: dalbano@ocregister.com


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