Wolpin, Santa Margarita take positive step
MISSION VIEJO - After missing last week because of a left-ankle injury, senior Ryan Wolpin made a productive return to the lineup and helped No. 5 Santa Margarita officially clinch a Pac-5 playoff berth with a dominant victory.
Wolpin rushed for three of the team’s six rushing touchdowns to lead the Eagles to a 42-0 victory over JSerra in Trinity League action Friday at Saddleback College.
“The story of our year has been going through adversity, and we’ve responded pretty good to it so far,” Wolpin said. "Coach (Harry Welch) wanted me to get healthy last week and my ankle feels good now. As a team, we know that we have to stay focused and play our style of football.”
Santa Margarita (8-1, 3-1) gained 403 total yards and will play at St. John Bosco in the regular-season finale on Friday.
A victory over the Braves, who are 4-0 in league, would give both teams a share of the league title. An Eagles victory and a Mater Dei loss to Servite would give Santa Margarita the Trinity League’s No. 1 playoff seed.
“I thought our offense played with a little more drive and enthusiasm tonight,” Welch said. “Everyone might have written us off, but we’re going to play for the league championship next Friday night.”
The Eagles entered the game looking to re-establish the offensive rhythm they played with before star senior quarterback Johnny Stanton went down with a season-ending knee injury on Sept. 21.
In their first five nonleague games with Stanton at the helm, the Eagles averaged 44.8 points per game. In their first three Trinity League games without Stanton, Santa Margarita averaged just 15 points per game.
Santa Margarita’s first half attack began to resemble the methodical, balanced attack that became a trademark with Stanton running the offense. Sweet completed 10 of 16 for 110 yards in the first half, while the Eagles rushed for 117 as a team.
“He (Sweet) made some Johnny Stanton-like plays tonight and made good decisions,” Welch said.
Wolpin capped a 12-play, 75 yard drive on the Eagles’ first possession of the game by plowing into the end zone from a yard out to give Santa Margarita a 7-0 lead with 6:32 left in the first quarter.
The Eagles defense controlled the Lions offense throughout the game, limiting JSerra to 42 rushing yards on 21 carries. They also added two interceptions.
“We had 11 guys on defense running to the ball and they did a terrific job and really stepped up for us,” Welch said.
The Lions defense made a key fourth-down stop of Wolpin at the Eagles’ 29-yard line less than a minute into the second quarter to give its offense its best starting field position of the half.
But two plays later, Eagles senior Gian Carlo Spinosi intercepted a pass by Lions QB Nick Robinson at the Eagles’ 18-yard line to end the scoring threat.
The Eagles mixed run and pass efficiently on their ensuing drive, as Sweet’s arm and legs helped guide them on a 11-play, 82-yard drive. Wolpin’s second one yard touchdown run of the half increased the lead to 14-0.
Following a three-and-out by JSerra (5-4, 0-4), Sweet and senior River Cracraft connected twice on the ensuing drive for a total of 46 yards. The Eagles’ third one yard rushing touchdown of the half came from junior Duncan Hume with 17 seconds left in the half to give Santa Margarita a 21-0 lead.
JSerra opened the half by driving to the Santa Margarita 28, but the Eagles defense stiffened and forced the Lions to punt.
The Eagles offensive line began to open sizable holes for Wolpin and Sweet who combined for 66 rushing yards on the next drive. Sweet capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
Wolpin finished the game with 97 yards rushing on 18 carries, while Sweet added 55 yards on 10 carries.
With less than minute to go in the third quarter, Wolpin once again plowed into the end zone from a yard out to give Santa Margarita a 35-0 lead.
Junior Josh Canty added the final touchdown of the game from a yard out with 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
“We are aware of how good St. John Bosco is and that they are one of the best teams in California,” Welch said. “We hope to continue to get healthier, work on what we do, and play with the right intensity.”
JSerra will look to tie a school record for wins in a season (6) when they take on Orange Lutheran Friday at Saddleback College in their season finale. The Lions defeated the Lancers 31-14 last season.