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Santa Margarita survives tough test
MISSION VIEJO - Santa Margarita expected its toughest game Friday against fellow Pac-5 Division contender St. Bonaventure of Ventura.
The Eagles got the challenge, and plenty of the accompanying adversity.
But Orange County's top-ranked team and running back Ryan Wolpin responded in the second half to collect a 35-27 victory at Saddleback College.
Wolpin helped seal the victory with a 50-yard touchdown run with 1:30 left that lifted the Eagles to the 35-27 lead.
The Santa Margarita defense applied the final touches less than a minute later. Hunter Graham recorded the first sack and Taylor Prenovost recovered the ensuing fumble at the St. Bonaventure 41 for the Eagles (5-0), ranked No. 1 in the division and No. 3 in the nation by maxpreps.
Santa Margarita's defense earlier made a key stop on a 2-point conversion by the Seraphs (4-1) with 2:50 left. Bruising running back Zachary Green had scored on a 6-yard touchdown to trim the Eagles' lead to 28-27, but he was stopped on the conversion.
"We've had several weeks where we really haven't needed to battle and tonight they were young, brave warriors," Santa Margarita coach Harry Welch said of his team, which trailed at the half for the first time.
"It's important they experience that and within their own hearts know that, 'I can go toe-to-toe, I can go 12 rounds in a championship fight.' This was like a championship fight."
Wolpin stood tall at end, rushing for 196 yards and two TDs on 23 carries.
"He's the heart and soul of our team," Santa Margarita safety Connor O'Brien said of Wolpin.
St. Bonaventure, ranked fourth in the division, and smooth sophomore QB Ricky Town scored on its first three possessions in the first half. Town completed his first 13 passes and finished with 178 yards passing.
Santa Margarita's offense found a rhythm early in the third quarter. After St. Bonaventure narrowly missed recovering an onside kick to open the second half, Eagles quarterback Johnny Stanton rolled to his right and tossed a 44-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kyle Sweet as the Eagles tied the score, 21-21, with 9:54 left in the third.
The Eagles' defense then forced their first punt and Stanton responded by leading a ï€¸63-yard scoring drive for the go-ahead score. In a play similar to his dramatic score in last season's state Division 1 bowl game, Stanton leaped in from 1 yard out to give Santa Margarita a 28-21 lead with 2:23 left in the third.
Stanton made another big play early in the fourth. With the Eagles still leading, 28-21, and facing a third-and-8 from their 7, the Nebraska commit escaped a near safety and rushed for a first down to his 19. Stanton was later limping on the drive but stayed in the game.
"That was maybe one of the biggest plays of the game," Welch said.
Santa Margarita didn't score after Stanton's scramble but the senior's save against the safety loomed large as Green scored on a 6-yard touchdown run with 2:50 left in the fourth, cutting the Eagles' lead to a point.
Green's score helped St. Bonaventure capitalize on an interception by Montre Lee against a fake punt attempt by the Eagles from the Seraphs' 34.
"We don't play for moral victories," St. Bonaventure coach Todd Therrien said. "We came down here to win the game. We didn't win the game, so we've got some stuff to work on. ... I don't think anyone wants to play Santa Margarita or St. Bonaventure, for that matter."
O'Brien was impressed St. Bonaventure went for the 2-point conversion and the lead.
"I give them a lot of credit," he said. "They have a lot (guts) to go for that and we made a stop."
Said Welch, "They gave us everything we could handle, and then some."
Stanton rushed for 100 yards and also passed for 133. River Cracraft added five receptions for 83 yards and a TD for the Eagles.
Santa Margarita was coming off a 72-0 victory against Carson last week and a 55-0 victory against Trabuco Hills before that. In their previous 10 quarters entering Friday, the Eagles had outscored opponents, 141-0
But Friday was a much tougher challenge, especially considering the composure of Town. Green, a Arizona commit, also rushed for 103 yards and three TDs on 18 carries.
Santa Margarita scored on its first two possessions of the game before St. Bonaventure forced a punt with 4:12 left in the first half.
"Part of football is you get down, you get up," O'Brien said. "We fought back at them and got the win."
Santa Margarita has a bye next week before opening the Trinity League against Servite at Saddleback College on Oct. 5.