Revenge is sweet, especially when it comes in the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division semifinals.
Johnny Stanton dived over the goal line from one yard out to complete a 10-play, 70-yard drive and John McGrory's extra point with 1:02 left lifted Santa Margarita to a 21-20 victory over host Mission Viejo on Friday night, avenging a 31-28 quarterfinal loss to the Diablos last season.
Mission Viejo reached its own 40 with 20 seconds left, but wide receiver Max Redfield couldn't pull down a high fourth-down pass over the middle and the Eagles took over.
"I saw that the nose tackle was really low and the linebackers were angled outside, so I knew that if I could just get over my center I could get into the end zone," Stanton said of his game-winning leap over the pile. "It scared me for a second because after they blew the whistle everyone kept on playing and I dropped the ball, but all's well that end's well."
Santa Margarita (11-2) will play San Clemente (12-1) for the championship next Saturday at Angel Stadium. The Tritons defeated Tesoro, 51-16, in Friday's other semifinal.
"That's one of the most remarkable games I've been involved with in 45 years," Santa Margarita Coach Harry Welch said. "No one should've lost that game. I thought we had many opportunities where in a perfect world we score three or four more times."
Welch, in his second year Santa Margarita, is vying for his ninth Southern Section title. He won five at Canyon Country Canyon (1983-85, 2005-06) and three with San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret's (2007-09).
Strong safety Doug Ruggles scooped up a Stanton fumble and returned it 86 yards for a touchdown to give Mission Viejo a 17-14 lead with 10:03 left in the fourth quarter. Ruggles then intercepted a deflected pass on the Eagles' next offensive play, setting up a 38-yard field goal by Zach Olsen that increased the Diablos' lead to six with 6:35 remaining.
"It feels amazing, this is what we've worked for all season," Stanton said. "I can't believe we're actually here."
Running back Ryan Wolpin took a direct snap and scampered 57 yards down the left sideline to score his 26th touchdown of the season and give Santa Margarita a 14-7 lead on its opening drive of the second half.
Olsen then kicked a 29-yard field goal to pull Mission Viejo within 14-10 with 3:57 left in the third quarter.
Mission Viejo (10-3) was poised to take the lead going into halftime, marching to the one-yard line, but Austin Reuland fumbled behind the line of scrimmage and Santa Margarita recovered at its own two.
Stanton's keeper gained five yards on the next play and the Eagles let the remaining seconds tick off the clock. Stanton completed nine of 20 passes for 86 yards and rushed 24 times for 123 yards. Wolpin had 165 yards and two touchdowns in 15 carries.
"All year long we've been taking it one week at a time," Wolpin said. "We practiced hard and worked our butts off, so this means the world to us."
On Mission Viejo's first drive of the game, Alex Bridgford fumbled on a quarterback sneak and Santa Margarita recovered at the Diablos' 39-yard line. However, the Eagles were unable to capitalize when Stanton was sacked on third down, forcing a punt.
Bridgford completed six of 15 passes for 84 yards, including a 63-yard scoring strike to D.J. Wilson to give the Diablos a 7-0 lead with 2:21 left in the first quarter. Jahleel Pinner rushed for 91 yards in 17 carries for Mission Viejo.
Wolpin's run from one yard out completed an eight-play, 64-yard drive that pulled Santa Margarita even, 7-7, with 6:25 left in the second quarter.
Westlake Village Oaks Christian 27, Ventura St. Bonaventure 24: Quarterback Brandon Dawkins ran for two touchdowns and passed for another as Oaks Christian advanced to its ninth consecutive division title game with a comeback victory in the Northern Division semifinal.
Oaks Christian scored three straight touchdowns after falling behind 17-7 in the second quarter. The Lions cut into St. Bonaventure's lead on a one-yard run by Dawkins late in the first half before taking the lead for good on a two-yard touchdown run by Carlos Mendoza in the third quarter.
A spectacular 37-yard catch by Jordan Payton off a deflection set up Dawkins' final touchdown on a one-yard dive midway through the third quarter.
Oaks Christian (11-2) will play crosstown rival Westlake Village Westlake (13-0) on Dec. 9 in a rematch of last year's Northern Division title game. Westlake, which beat Oaks Christian, 35-14, this season, defeated Thousand Oaks, 62-0, on Friday.
— Austin Knoblauch
San Clemente 51, Rancho Santa Margarita Tesoro 16: Christian Tober scored three first-half touchdowns as San Clemente (12-1) dominated its South Coast League rival and advanced to a division title game for the first time since 1979. Tesoro finished 8-5.
— Austin Knoblauch