A somber handshake line told a story of a Huntington Beach High football team that thought “goodbye” had come too soon.
Had it not been for a short stretch in the second quarter, the Oilers likely felt that they might still be playing this season.
Instead, a 14-point halftime deficit proved too much for the visiting Oilers to overcome.
Koa Todd produced 101 yards of total offense and two touchdowns, and No. 2-seeded St. Margaret’s defeated Huntington Beach 28-17 in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs on Friday night.
Todd rushed 10 times for 78 yards, including a 19-yard score with 2:27 remaining to extend the Tartans’ lead to two possessions. The senior followed by recording two of his three sacks on the Oilers’ final drive.
“It was one of the best feelings that I’ve ever had,” Todd said. “I’ve been dying to just get out here and play football. The last two years, I got injured for the season.
“This season has really been my one big season, and it felt amazing.”
Todd said that a torn ACL and a dislocated shoulder that required surgery were responsible for ending his previous two seasons prematurely.
St. Margaret’s (10-1) will go on the road to face Phelan Serrano (8-3) in the quarterfinals on Nov. 9. Serrano defeated Cypress 19-8 in a first-round game on Thursday.
Oilers coach Brett Brown gave Brandon Cannella the start at quarterback. Cannella came into the game having thrown just two interceptions, and Brown was hopeful that ball security would allow his defense to decide the game.
In one short sequence, that game plan went out the window. Cole Kaplan had a rugby-style punt blocked by Alexander Smith, who ran down the loose ball and returned it seven yards to give St. Margaret’s a 14-7 lead.
Two plays into the next drive for the Oilers, Cannella’s short pass to a well-covered Jeremiah Flanagan was deflected up in the air. It came down into the arms of Cooper Barkate, who was lying on his back when he made the catch.
The Tartans had not moved the ball much to that point, but their second first down of the game resulted in a second offensive touchdown. Todd ran a slant route, and James Mott found him for a 23-yard scoring strike to make it 21-7 with 7:41 left in the second quarter.
“I think we had a good game plan,” said Brown, who saw senior middle linebacker John Gosney record a sack and block a field goal, and Michael McCormick and Brandon Bova come up with sacks. “I don’t think they stopped us and much as we stopped ourselves.”
Huntington Beach’s lone score of the first half came on an 80-yard drive. After dropping his first two targets, Isaac Bryant made two catches to move the chains on third down.
“I’ve always been taught by these coaches, ‘It’s got to be next play,’” Bryant said after making six catches for 111 yards. “You got to keep working. You got to keep grinding. The next play has to be the best one.
“I dropped those first two, but I just couldn’t let that get inside of me because there’s a way bigger picture.”
Flanagan capped the drive with a 14-yard touchdown reception on a fade route to the back right corner of the end zone.
Flanagan, a 6-foot-4 receiver and cornerback, had been playing through a quad injury since the Edison game in Week 7. He continued to play through the injury after aggravating it in the second quarter.
“He’s a tough kid, and his football career is not over,” Brown said. “He will be playing at the next level somewhere. After tonight, I think he should have some offers.”
Arick McLawyer had a 56-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter. The running back’s other 16 carries totaled 27 yards.
Down 21-14, the Oilers drove the ball down to the Tartans five-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter, but they settled for a 23-yard field goal by Will Macy.
Huntington Beach (6-5) wouldn’t score again, ending the season with its third straight loss.
CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs
St. Margaret’s 28, Huntington Beach 17
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Huntington Beach 7 – 0 – 7 – 3 — 17
St. Margaret’s 7 – 14 – 0 – 7 — 28
SM – Kenner 25 pass from Mott (Vartanian kick), 9:33.
HB – Flanagan 14 pass from Cannella (Macy kick), 3:19.
SM – Smith 7 punt block return (Vartanian kick), 9:38.
SM – Todd 23 pass from Mott (Vartanian kick), 7:41.
HB – McLawyer 56 run (Macy kick), 3:47.
HB – Macy 23 FG, 10:53.
SM – Todd 19 run (Vartanian kick), 2:27.
HB – McLawyer, 17-83, 1 TD.
SM – Todd, 10-78, 1 TD.
HB – Cannella, 10-23-1, 145, 1 TD.
SM – Mott, 9-19-0, 91.
HB – Bryant, 6-111.