Arizona Republic sports writer Richard Obert covers Phoenix Brophy Prep, the No. 1 ranked high school football team in Arizona. The Broncos are playing for the pride of Arizona, and Obert—along with Martin Henderson of Patch—has compiled a list of reasons why Santa Margarita Catholic (0-0) will beat Brophy Prep (1-0). SMCHS is ranked as high as No. 1 in the nation by rivals.com and no worse than No. 4 by four different ranking entities.
- Read Patch's
- Read Obert's original story, "Breaking Down Brophy-Santa Margarita"
It's a stellar way to begin the high school football season for Orange County. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Saturday, 7 p.m.
Reasons why Santa Margarita will win
1. Experience. There are 15 returning starters on a team that won the Southern Section Pac-5 title and State Division I Bowl championship. Not only does it reduce the so-called rookie mistakes, but it also adds to the chemistry. Nine starters—all but two offensive linemen—return on offense. These players have been there before—with each other. That’s something that only time can buy.
2. The It Factor is something every great team has, and Santa Margarita has it in quarterback Johnny Stanton. There might be better passers out there, and there might be better runners out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who not only combines passing (2,439 yards, 13 TDs) and running (1,528 yards, 25 TDs) but also leadership. It was Stanton who guided the Eagles to 21 fourth quarter points in a 42-37 victory over San Jose Bellarmine Prep—including the game-winning 80-yard touchdown in the final 1:46; Stanton scored with 16 seconds left on fourth-and-one when his team could have just as easily kicked a gimme field goal. He scored four TDs in a 49-16 second round victory over Long Beach Poly in the playoffs. He guided the Eagles 70 yards in the final 6:35 in a 21-20 semifinal victory over Mission Viejo. He’s the player everyone believes in, especially his teammates, and if it needs to happen, he’ll make it happen.
3. Coach Harry Welch doesn’t lose playoff games and, for the Eagles and Welch and all that’s at stake, this is a playoff game. Welch is essentially the offensive and defensive coordinator; he’s not on the radio with a coach upstairs in the press box telling him what’s happening on the field. His teams have won 28 of their last 29 playoff games. Coaches would cut off body parts for that kind of record. He has guided three schools to State Bowl Championships over the last six years. He knows how to get his team ready for a big game. This is a big game.
4. The Eagles are diverse. Stanton is a better passer than he gets credit for—he was named one of the top five QBs at the Elite 11 camp—and not only is he a dual threat, but the Santa Margarita offense has a solid running game with Ryan Wolpin (1,637 yards, 27 TDs) running behind an offensive line that averages 304.8 pounds and returns Erik Bunte (6-7, 323, UCLA), Dane Crane (6-3, 308, Washington) and Riley Sorenson (6-5, 329, undecided). The Eagles add a solid kicking game and a defense that doesn’t have to throw shutouts, just keep the game close enough for the offense to pull through.
5. Santa Margarita has the defense to compete with Brophy’s offense. The passing tandem of Tyler Bruggman and Devon Allen won’t have their way as they did against Glendale Mountain Ridge in which Bruggman passed for 345 yards, including 199 to Allen. Santa Margarita defensive backs River Cracraft (two interceptions, Washington State), R.J. Mazolweski (four interceptions) and Conner O’Brien (eight interceptions, Washington) will see to that.
6. The Eagles are used to this kind of competition. Brophy Prep is playing for the pride of Arizona, and they are regarded as the No. 1 team in the state. The reality is that Santa Margarita plays games of this caliber most nights in the Trinity League. A year ago, Brophy Prep had a computer-based Freeman Rating of 46; four of Santa Margarita’s rivals in league had a rating of 45.3 or higher. The Eagles played eight opponents with a rating of 54 or better and won seven times. For Santa Margarita, this is just another day at the office.
7. Brophy’s lack of preparation/recovery. The Broncos played Glendale Mountain Ridge on Wednesday, three days before playing Santa Margarita. The starters played into the fourth quarter, and will have only two days of preparation—and rest and recovery—for Santa Margarita. Two days. Are they serious? Teams don’t beat Johnny Stanton when they have a week to prepare.
8. Santa Margarita suffered through a heat wave. Yeah, we all know that Arizona produces a dry heat, but the temperatures in Phoenix on Saturday night won't be any worse than what the Eagles practiced in during two-a-days last week amid the state's heat wave. If that was supposed to be an advantage for Brophy Prep, the Eagles have already been there and done that.
9. History is on Santa Margarita's side: The Eagles are 16-6-1 in season openers, 17-6 in road openers, and are 2-0 in out of state games—both shutouts by a combined score of 78-0.
10. Santa Margarita is better. On paper and on film, Santa Margarita is the better, more experienced, more battle-tested team. That doesn't guarantee victory, but it establishes the baseline for predicting it. There is not one facet of this matchup, possibly with the exception of the return game and current season experience, where Brophy Prep has a distinct advantage. If the Broncos can return four kicks for touchdowns, then more power to them. It will take at least 28 points to beat the Eagles.