Eagles win a thriller for CIF Division 1 crown

Johnny Stanton, Santa Margarita’s standout junior quarterback, has a profile on that reads: “Hi. I have a severely limited social life because I play football. Will you be my friend?”

He had only 85 followers Friday night when he tweeted two hours before the CIF state championship Division I bowl game: “One last time. Win state.”

Let me predict that JohnnyStanton4 is going to have followers growing by the dozens this weekend, because he has become his school’s most recognizable athlete on campus after leading the Eagles to a 42-37 victory over San Jose Bellarmine before 7,624 at the Home Depot Center.

Stanton had four touchdown passes and scored the winning touchdown on a one-yard dive on fourth-and-goal with 16 seconds left.


Stanton and Bellarmine quarterback Travis McHugh aren’t related but they might as well be identical twins. They are two quarterbacks with straight-As on their report cards who run, pass and lead their teams with amazing similarity. They engaged in a memorable duel, each refusing to back down.

The 6-foot-3 McHugh rose up in the second half to help Bellarmine open a 30-21 lead. He made a 24-yard field goal with 4:06 left in the third quarter to break a 21-21 tie. His 28-yard screen pass to Tim Crawley set up a three-yard touchdown run by Justin Taliaferro with 9:50 left.

Back came Stanton, who fired a 32-yard touchdown pass to Connor O’Brien with 7:52 left to pull the Eagles to within two, 30-28. Then Mike Andersen intercepted a McHugh pass at the 17 and returned it to the one-yard line. Stanton scored with 6:52 left and added a two-point conversion run for a 36-30 lead.

McHugh then drove the Bells 74 yards, with Taliaferro scoring on a one-yard run with 1:46 left. McHugh’s conversion kick made it Bellarmine 37, Santa Margarita 36.

Santa Margarita Coach Harry Welch won his third bowl game with his third school, an achievement unlikely to be matched for years to come.

Repetition, hard work and discipline are the tenets preached by Welch. Santa Margarita, however, made some uncharacteristic mistakes, losing three fumbles and committing a couple drive-killing penalties.

Bellarmine’s pass rush produced four sacks of Stanton, who struggled in the second half.

Bellarmine took a 24-21 lead with 4:06 left on a 24-yard field goal by McHugh. Santa Margarita’s offense couldn’t move the ball in its first three possessions of the third quarter. The Bells were rushing only three players and started making sure Santa Margarita’s receivers stayed covered.

What a shootout it was in the first half, with the quarterbacks orchestrating every move for their respective teams in a 21-21 deadlock.

Stanton had touchdown passes of 31 and 10 yards to River Cracraft and 41 yards to Sean Modster. He finished 14 of 25 for 306 yards. McHugh ran 47 yards for a touchdown and passed 40 yards to Conner Jauch for Bellarmine. McHugh ran for 140 yards and passed for 165 yards.

The big difference was two fumbles by Santa Margarita. Bellarmine recovered a bad handoff on the second offensive play by the Eagles on the 18, setting up a 14-yard touchdown run by Jauch. Santa Margarita survived a second fumble in the second quarter by Cracraft when the Bells ran out of timeouts and ended the half on the Santa Margarita nine-yard line.

Stanton was near flawless passing in the first half, completing nine of 13 for 198 yards. McHugh rushed for 68 yards and was seven of 10 for 115 yards before halftime.