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Eagles Stay Focused, Top Sea Kings


MISSION VIEJO — Santa Margarita Coach Jim Hartigan felt edgy heading into Thursday night's regular-season final despite the Eagles' No. 5 ranking and having clinched a share of the Sea View League title.

Hartigan wanted to win the championship outright, the first in the school's 10-year history. And he had to do it against Corona del Mar, a team that, while not in the playoffs, had beaten the Eagles the last three years. "I wasn't sure if they just got up for us or had our number," Hartigan said.

After a week of poor practices, Hartigan wondered if his players' minds were on the playoffs.

But once the game started, Santa Margarita (9-1, 5-0) gave Corona del Mar its undivided attention, and won, 55-27, in front of an estimated 3,000 at Saddleback College.

"We did a good job tonight with the starters," said Hartigan, who played junior varsity players the entire second half. "It's great to have the league championship. We'll enjoy this for a day, but I think the kids are smart enough to know we still have to beat some good teams, like Newport Harbor and Servite, to accomplish what we want."

The score quickly got out of hand, as Santa Margarita rolled to a 48-14 halftime lead.

Billy Newman rushed for 162 yards and scored four times for the Eagles--in the first half. Quarterback Carson Palmer also had tremendous success in the first 24 minutes, completing four of six passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns.

For the Sea Kings (4-6, 1-4), quarterback Mike McClellan passed for 356 yards, completing 20 of 38 attempts with two interceptions. The main target was George Sumner, who caught six for 210 yards and three touchdowns.

Sea King Coach Dick Freeman acknowledged beforehand that Thursday's game was "pretty much a pride thing" for Corona del Mar. And the 55 points Newport Harbor scored last week did not do much for his team's confidence.

To compound matters, Corona del Mar was without starting nose guard Tyler Brower, who was involved in an auto accident before the game.

The Eagles scored on their first six possessions.

Palmer ignited a 28-point first quarter with a 48-yard touchdown pass to Brett Crowder, and followed with 49-yard touchdown pass to Newman.

Santa Margarita's Jesse Wyatt intercepted a McClellan pass at the Eagle 42 and returned it 58 yards, boosting its lead to 21-0. And after Eagle lineman Austin Jayred recovered a Sea King fumble, Palmer threw his third pass, and third consecutive touchdown, to John Minardi from 23 yards.

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