NEWPORT COAST — The Sage Hill School football team could almost taste its first victory over rival St. Margaret's.
Friday's game was no blowout loss as in years past; instead it was a big defensive struggle.
St. Margaret's made the plays at the end when it needed to make them, though, escaping with a 10-6 victory in the Academy League showdown at Sage Hill on senior quarterback Joey Sego's four-yard keeper with four minutes left in the game.
In the four-team league, St. Margaret's (5-3, 1-0) again appears to have the upper hand after winning the league opener. The Tartans have never lost to Sage Hill (6-2, 0-1) since the Lightning first fielded a varsity program in 2002. The closest previous game was a 42-21 St. Margaret's win in 2006.
The Lightning made the two-time defending CIF Southern Section East Valley Division champions work for it Friday. Sego's touchdown run was the first time all game the Tartans, ranked No. 5 in this year's East Valley poll, led No. 7-ranked Sage Hill.
"This is huge for our program," second-year Sage Hill Coach J.R. Tolver said. "I came into a program that the previous year we got beat [by St. Margaret's] 56-0. The next year, I show up and they steamrolled us, 70-0. These kids are ready to come out and get a little bit of redemption. I think you can see by the way they played that they've been working their tails off. Hopefully in the next couple of years the changing of the guard can happen in the Academy League."
With big plays at a premium, Sage never backed down. The Lightning took a 6-3 lead midway through the third quarter, on senior Taylor Ross' second field goal of the game. It was set up by Sage's biggest play all night, a 41-yard pass from senior Randall Mycorn to junior Taylor Petty.
Ross kept plugging away on the ground all night as well, finishing with 103 yards on 24 carries on Senior Night. But the Lightning had a costly fumble late in the third quarter at the St. Margaret's 25.
"That fumble really hurt us," Tolver said. "We were heading in to go up two scores. If we go up two scores on these guys, we felt like their passing game was pretty basic. It happens … in the second half we didn't play as crisply as we would have liked."
St. Margaret's appeared ready to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter, after a punt return set the Tartans up at the Sage Hill 28-yard line. But the visitors fumbled on the next play and Sage junior linebacker David Fenner recovered.
Sage's ensuing drive ended on an interception, however, and St. Margaret's went on a seven-play, 40-yard drive capped by Sego's keeper. It was the quarterback's fifth run of the drive, all up the middle.
"We knew they were good," Sego said. "We didn't expect this. We had a lot of little errors, and those little errors can build up into big ones. We ended up bringing it together and scoring that touchdown."
Sage Hill had one last chance. But with just two timeouts left, the Lightning were forced to abandon the run. Mycorn's nine-yard pass to Conner Ascher converted a fourth-and-four situation, and Sage crossed midfield and got to the St. Margaret's 36.
But, on fourth-and-11 with 34 seconds remaining, Mycorn's pass to Petty was batted away by St. Margaret's senior James Muryama.
Sage Hill may have to wait until next year to see if it can institute Tolver's changing of the guard.
"It's definitely not where we want to be," Ross said. "But it's a good step in the right direction."
St. Margaret's 10, Sage Hill 6
SCORE BY QUARTERS
St. Margaret's 0 – 3 – 0 – 7 — 10
Sage Hill 3 – 0 – 3 – 0 — 6
SH – Ross 42 FG, 6:18.
SM – Smith 34 FG, 10:30.
SH – Ross 25 FG, 6:14.
SM – Sego 1 run (Smith kick), 4:00.
SM – Sego, 8-68, 1 TD.
SH – Ross, 24-103.
SM – Sego, 3-5-0, 24.
SH – Mycorn, 14-27-1, 126.
SM – Edwards, 1-16.
SH – Petty, 8-88.