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ROSE PALMISANO, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Servite quarterback Travis Waller eludes the grasp of a Santa Margarita defender during the first half of their game.

Servite tops Santa Margarita, stays in hunt

OCVARSITY.COM

NORWALK – The calendar read Week 7, but Servite viewed Friday's Trinity League showdown against Santa Margarita as an elimination game.

“It's a playoff game because dropping one more (game) in the Trinity League is a death sentence,” Servite coach A.J. Gass said before the game.

No. 3 Servite stayed alive in the Pac-5 Division playoff race and bounced back from a loss to rival Mater Dei by defeating No. 5 Santa Margarita, 30-14, at Cerritos College.

The Friars (4-3, 1-1) remedied their penchant for slow starts by scoring the first 17 points, all in the second quarter.

They followed junior quarterback Travis Waller, who dazzled with his passing in the first half and his running in the second half.

Waller passed for two touchdowns in the first half to wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and scored on runs of 80 and 21 yards in the second half.

Waller finished with 187 yards rushing on 22 carries and passed for another 124 yards.

Servite also received a spark from the return of defensive back Maurice Davison, who had two interceptions and a pair of tackles for losses.

The Friars needed both performances because they dropped their league opener and still have to play undefeated St. John Bosco (7-0, 2-0) among others. Santa Margarita fell to 3-4, 0-2 and still plays undefeated Mater Dei -- this coming week -- among others.

“This is a big game,” Waller said. “Our main incentive was we don't want to leave it up to the (playoff) committee to decide if we make it to the playoffs or not.”

Waller capped his first half by driving the Friars 86 yards in the final 2:04 for a 2-yard TD pass to St. Brown with 7 seconds left. The score and extra point by Patrick Flynn put Servite up, 17-0.

The halftime score marked the first time a Harry Welch-led Santa Margarita team was shut out in the first half.

Waller finished the first half 11 for 16 passing for 114 yards, including a well-thrown, 31-yard TD pass to St. Brown early in the second quarter.

But Santa Margarita inserted wide receiver Kyle Sweet at quarterback to start the second half and the junior and running Jeremy McNichols ignited the Eagles' offense.

Sweet scored on a 10-yard run in the third and McNichols bolted around the edge for a 25-yard TD run with 6:28 left in the fourth as the Eagles cut the Friars' lead to 17-14.

But after McNichols' run, Waller showed his speed by breaking an 80-yard TD run to give the Friars a 23-14 lead (the PAT failed) with 6:13 left.

Davison then made a spectacular leaping interception on a deep pass to give the Friars the ball back. He ran stride for stride with wide receiver and leaped to grab a well-placed pass intended for Grant Clancy

Waller capped the ensuing drive with a 21-yard scoring run with 2:25 left.

"Waller was truly outstanding," Welch said.

Waller credited his offensive line and Davison, who didn’t play last week because of a mild concussion.

“That’s a great play right there,” Waller said of Davison’s second interception. “People underestimate that kid but he can jump.”

Servite practiced more at game-speed this week in an effort to start stronger. Last week, Mater Dei jumped to a 21-0 lead in the first half. The Friars turned to their ground game Friday to seal the victory. Waller threw only three passes in the second half but Servite finished with 290 yards rushing.

Nick Lopiccola rushed for 49 yards while Tate Beachley added 47 yards. 

“Our ground game has been strong all year so when we needed to close out (the) game, it took over,” Gass said.

Servite's revamped defense also featured the return of Havili Eteaki from a concussion and a second consecutive solid start from sophomore linebacker Sammy Duarte, a transfer from Mater Dei.

Defensive lineman Adam O'Shea also played well, recording a sack and two tackles for losses.

In his first varsity start, Santa Margarita sophomore linebacker Matthew Mark made 16 total tackles.

Gass said the Friars face another must-win game next week when Orange Lutheran visits Cerritos College.

"It's a do-or-die next week," he said.

Contact the writer: dalbano@ocregister.com


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