In a hard-hitting game befitting the toughest playoff division in the CIF Southern Section, Santa Margarita won the Pac-5 championship Saturday night with a 27-13 victory over San Clemente at Angel Stadium and staked its claim to a state bowl berth.
The CIF state championship bowl game matchups will be announced Sunday afternoon, and games will be played Friday and next Saturday at Home Depot Center in Carson.
It is the ninth CIF title for Santa Margarita Coach Harry Welch, who hopes to go to his third state bowl game with his third school, having won with Canyon Country Canyon in 2006 and San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret’s in 2008.
“I’m very happy to share this with the community,” Welch said. “I’m so proud to be an Eagle. I’ve never been more proud than I am right now.”
Ryan Wolpin put the game away, running three yards on a pitch for his 28th touchdown of the season to give Santa Margarita (12-2) a 27-13 lead with 3:09 to play in the fourth quarter.
The clinching score completed an 11-play, 89-yard drive that took 10 minutes.
River Cracraft intercepted a pass by San Clemente quarterback Travis Wilson just inside the Eagles’ 10-yard line, and Santa Margarita proceeded to run out the clock.
Johnny Stanton’s two-yard dive over the goal line had given the Eagles a 21-13 lead on the opening drive of the second half. Earlier, Cracraft caught an eight-yard touchdown pass from Stanton to give Santa Margarita a 14-13 lead with 11 seconds left in the first half.
Mike Elespuru’s three-yard touchdown run put San Clemente (12-2) in front, 13-7, with 3:47 left in the second quarter. Wolpin had scored on a 33-yard run up the middle to give Santa Margarita its first lead, 7-3, with 34 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Southern Section title was Santa Margarita’s first since 1997, when a team led by future USC and NFL quarterback Carson Palmer won the second of back-to-back Division V titles with a 55-42 victory over Tustin.