They’re for real. Santa Margarita, after four weeks of victories over teams that were either unknown quantities or clearly not in its class, finally had a championship-caliber fight on its hands Friday.
Ranked No. 1 in the nation by ESPN, the Eagles came from behind in the second half and scored a 35-27 nonleague victory over Ventura St. Bonaventure at Saddleback College.
St. Bonaventure (4-1) came into the game ranked No. 9 in the state by CalHiSports.com, and the Seraphs played like it, taking a 21-14 lead into the half.
“Whoever’s playing deep in the CIF playoffs this year is probably going to play them,” said Harry Welch, the Santa Margarita coach. “But when you have River Cracraft, Johnny Stanton, Ryan Wolpin—he just keeps coming and coming and coming … This was a great moment for us.
“That was the best team we’ve seen. It was rough and tumble, we like to play that way, obviously they do. If I was coaching the Seraphs I’d be very proud, and coaching the Eagles I’m even more proud.”
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There was plenty to take pride in for Santa Margarita (5-0), especially on offense and especially from the aspect of character. They were challenged, and they responded. The Eagles amassed 447 yards of offense, St. Bonny 399.
Wolpin was stellar. He rushed 23 times for 200 yards and two touchdowns, including the one that iced it in the fourth quarter on a 50-yard breakaway.
Stanton was equally impressive and even more gutsy. He banged his knee in the first quarter, but still played through; he ran 15 times for 97 yards and a score, and completed seven of 11 passes for 133 yards and two scores.
He may have made the play of the game in the fourth quarter. At his 7-yard line on third-and-9, he was nearly sacked in the end zone for a safety, but turned it into a 12-yard gain for a first down.
The victory gives Santa Margarita a quality victory going into its Trinity League opener in two weeks against Servite, which has won or shared the league title the past seven years.
“We needed to be tested, we needed to go against a team that was strong, could execute, have an excellent, a varied offense, had a good defense and an excellent kicking game and that’s what we got from St. Bonaventure,” Welch said. “They would be right at home in the Trinity League. No one in the Trinity League would look past them. No one.
“Tonight (we) were young brave warriors and it’s important they experience that and know in their hearts 'I can go toe-to-toe, I can go 12 rounds in a championship fight.' This was like a championship fight. No one knows what will happen over the next two or three months, but at this time of the year, I don’t think anyone would say one of those two teams on that field couldn’t play with anyone in California.”
St. Bonny scored on its first three possessions behind tailback Zack Green and sophomore quarterback Ricky Town. Green scored on runs of 31 and 4 yards, and Town completed his first 12 passes, one a 4-yard strike to Montre Lee on fourth down for a 21-14 lead.
Santa Margarita scored on its first two possessions, on Stanton’s 12-yard pass to River Cracraft to go up, 7-6, and Wolpin’s 1-yard run with 1:33 left in the first quarter that tied the score at 14-14. Cracraft caught five passes for 83 yards.
Santa Margarita might have kept pace with St. Bonaventure in the first half, but a holding penalty on Stanton’s 11-yard completion to Wolpin on third-and-six was devastating.
Unlike St. Bonny, there was no letdown for the Eagles in the second half. Santa Margarita responded with touchdowns on its first two possessions of the second half. Stanton passed deep, 44 yards, to Kyle Sweet to tie the score at 21-21, and then drove 63 yards with Stanton leaping over for the one—in a play similar to the one in which he scored the winning touchdown against San Jose Bellarmine in last season’s Division I Bowl Championship—for a 28-21 lead.
It looked like kicker Alex Ury’s fourth point-after would be the difference in the game after St. Bonny scored but fell inches short on a two-point conversion with 2:50 remaining. The Seraphs drove 74 yards with the game on the line, and though Green had made a two-point conversion in the first quarter, he was stopped inches short of the goal line by Tony Bone and company.
A few plays later, Wolpin unleashed a 50-yard score with 1:30 remaining for the final margin.