Santa Margarita won, 21-0, in its first game without Johnny Stanton. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
The post-Johnny Stanton era has officially begun at Santa Margarita and it's so far, so good for the Eagles.
Relying on the legs of running back Ryan Wolpin and the combined efforts of junior Josh Canty and sophomore Kyle Sweet at quarterback, Santa Margarita ground out a 21-0 victory over Anaheim Servite on Friday night at Saddleback College in the Trinity League opener for both schools.
The Nebraska-bound Stanton, who was the Pac-5 Division offensive player of the year in 2011, saw his high school career come to an abrupt end after tearing a knee ligament against Ventura St. Bonaventure two weeks ago. The senior quarterback has undergone successful surgery and was on crutches on the sideline Friday to support his teammates.
Despite being weak from flu, Wolpin made Servite sick by rushing 14 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns for the host Eagles (6-0), ranked No. 1 in the Southland by The Times.
Sweet replaced Canty at quarterback in the second half and led Santa Margarita on an 11-play, 58-yard march, ending with his three-yard keeper for the final score with 5:29 left. He finished six-of-seven passing for 36 yards and ran 11 times for 51 yards.
Canty played the first half, completing five of eight passes for 30 yards with two interceptions. Santa Margarita also gave the ball up on a muffed punt two minutes into the game, but its defense held.
"I was told at halftime I was going in [at quarterback] and my goal was just to keep the ball in our hands and let my guys make plays," said Sweet, the younger brother of UCLA wide receiver Logan Sweet. "You don't replace someone like Johnny Stanton, but one person doesn't make a team and it's up to the rest of us to bring it every game."
Santa Margarita Coach Harry Welch admitted he had no idea how his team would respond, or what to expect from his two untested quarterbacks.
"After those two quick turnovers I thought we were up in Utah with the Trojans," Welch said in reference to USC's Thursday night game. "I'm really proud of Josh and Kyle. They were put into the fire. Josh had a harder job -- he faced the unknown and was under greater pressure being the starter."
Welch said he planned to try both Canty and Sweet during the game, and the starting position is still up for grabs. "We will go into Monday's practice with a two-quarterback mentality but at some point we'll have to make a decision."
Wolpin dove over the pile from one yard out to complete a 10-play, 56-yard drive that gave Santa Margarita a 7-0 lead with 3:33 left in the second quarter.
"Ryan is sick as a dog ... this was his first day back at school in three days," Welch said of Wolpin, who has 14 touchdowns this season and 50 in his Eagles career. "You saw him about 60 percent physically but he's 100 percent heart."
After a high snap over the punter's head, Eagles linebacker Tony Bone recovered the ball deep in Servite territory and Wolpin capped the ensuing drive with a three-yard run to give Santa Margarita a 14-0 lead late in the third quarter.
After Equanimeous St. Brown made a leaping catch to set the Friars up at Santa Margarita's eight-yard line, Gian Carlo Spinosi blocked a 25-yard field-goal attempt as time expired in the first half.
Servite quarterback Travis Waller completed 11 of 18 passes for 60 yards and was sacked twice by Eagles lineman Nick Begg.
"I knew they'd do the same thing they always do or even get even more basic," Servite Coach Troy Thomas said of Santa Margarita, which beat the Friars for the first time since 2004. "We had opportunities early but anytime you miss chances to put up points against a good team, it hurts."
With Stanton under center, Santa Margarita averaged 44.8 points in its first five games. The Eagles' offense lacked its usual explosiveness Friday, but the defense posted its third shutout and played with the intensity it will need if Santa Margarita hopes to return to the Southern Section finals.
"Our defense won this game tonight," Sweet said. "It was great to come in and do my part, but those guys [on defense] made some big hits and dominated, and that made a huge difference."