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Santa Margarita Comes Back Big Against Ayala


They say it's just the first game, that it doesn't mean anything because the players are trying to learn.

But after Santa Margarita's 22-17 comeback victory over Chino Hills Ayala Friday night at Cal State Fullerton, Eagle Coach Jim Hartigan was the one doing the learning.

The Eagles trailed, 17-0, with 4:28 left in the third quarter before reeling off two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the quarter, then taking the lead on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Matt Dlugolecki to Tim Clark with 6:19 left to play.

Kicker Curtis Cooper, who earlier missed a point after touchdown attempt, sealed the victory with a 42-yard field goal with 3:24 left.

It was the biggest comeback in school history, eclipsing the 14-point deficit in a victory over Woodbridge in 1996.

"These guys showed me a lot tonight," Hartigan said. "They easily could have thrown in the towel after the first half, but they showed heart and didn't give up."

The Bulldogs had a couple of late opportunities, but running back Justin Wolfchief fumbled at the Santa Margarita 26 with 5:01 left in the game and Santa Margarita's Ashton White intercepted a Charlie Douglas pass with 2:53 left.

Dlugolecki, who completed 13 of 19 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns, looked jittery at the outset, overthrowing and underthrowing receivers.

Hartigan settled the senior by calling an array of short passes, and the strategy worked. Moments after Ayala took a 17-0 lead on a 16-yard pass play from Douglas to Chuck Asiodu, Dlugolecki connected with Tyler Thompson on a short pass, and Thompson raced 46 yards down the sideline for a touchdown to get the Eagles on the board.

"That was huge," said Thompson, who caught three passes for 101 yards. "In the first half we couldn't get anything going. We needed something to give us some momentum, and that was it."

The Eagle defense, which had trouble stopping Eric Stormon and the Bulldogs' Wing-T attack, held Ayala, and when Santa Margarita took over, Dlugolecki and Thompson connected on a 44-yard pass play. That set up a three-yard Thompson touchdown run and pulled the Eagles to within 17-14 as the third quarter came to an end.

Clark caught a screen pass and broke three tackles en route to scoring the go-ahead points.

Ayala, led by Stormon's 87 yards in 15 carries, wore down Santa Margarita throughout the first half. With a varied rushing attack, the Bulldogs held possession for 16:28 of the first half, compared to 7:32 for Santa Margarita.

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