With a gravelly voice straight out of central casting, Santa Ana Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson knows how to play the underdog role to perfection. He had his players fired up Thursday night, particularly on defense, and the result was a 21-14 upset of previously unbeaten Santa Margarita in a Trinity League opener.
The Monarchs (3-3) sacked Santa Margarita quarterback Johnny Stanton five times, the last of which, by Thomas Duarte, ended the game on fourth down at the Santa Margarita 35. Linebacker Rick Ortiz had two of the sacks.
Santa Margarita (5-1) had come in ranked No. 2 by The Times. Mater Dei had lost its first three games, to Carson, Corona Centennial and San Clemente, after being unable to hold leads.
Once again, the Monarchs couldn't hold a lead. Santa Margarita rallied from a 13-0 halftime deficit to move on top, 14-13, in the third quarter, scoring touchdowns on a 47-yard interception return by Connor O'Brien and a Ryan Wolpin one-yard run after a fumble recovery.
But quarterback Ryan McMahon engineered a 55-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. JC Genova's four-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion reception by Ortiz gave the Monarchs the lead for good with 4 minutes 13 seconds left.
McMahon, a junior, had his shaky moments, but he also showed resiliency and leadership. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 267 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions.
"The kids were ready to play," Rollinson said. "They bought into the game plan and stayed with the game plan. The big thing in a game like this is you've got to deal with the adversity. In the second half, two turnovers, they're right back in it. This time, our defense stepped up."
Added McMahon: "We owe our win to them."
Mater Dei's defense dominated in the first half in opening that 13-0 halftime advantage. Santa Margarita Coach Harry Welch does not like to have his team punt even once, yet the Eagles were forced into punting three times.
Stanton finished eight of 19 for 110 yards. Josh Cook had a nine-yard TD catch for Mater Dei.