By Zach Cavanagh

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Going into halftime against Bishop Diego of Santa Barbara on Friday, St. Margaret’s was showing signs of a beaten team.

The Tartans had shot themselves in the foot twice on punt attempts in the end zone for nine Cardinals points, and Bishop Diego wore down St. Margaret’s to take the one-point lead on a long, grinding, pounding drive.

However, in the second half, the St. Margaret’s defense buckled down.

Out of halftime, the Tartans allowed only two first downs, forced two turnovers and blocked a field goal to shut out Bishop Diego in the second half, and the St. Margaret’s offense found its explosive groove to pull away in a 42-15 nonleague win on Military Appreciation Night at St. Margaret’s High School.

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“Resiliency,” St. Margaret’s coach Kory Minor said. “We talk about staying together. We talk about a brotherhood. We talk about ‘don’t flinch.’ We took some bumps, most of it we caused ourselves. They’re a great team, reason why they’re in Division 4. But we stayed the course. Guys came in at halftime, made some adjustments, figured some things out and finished strong.”

Offensively, senior Alex Lanham led the way with 153 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 11 carries, including two touchdowns of over 60 yards. Senior quarterback James Mott completed 12 of 21 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns, both to junior William Kenner in the second half.

St. Margaret’s (5-1), ranked No. 3 in Division 6, continues to punch its way up through the CIF-SS divisions as the only school in the Division 6 rankings with an enrollment of less than 2,000 students. St. Margaret’s has 476 students in its upper school.

“We had a tough first half,” senior Koa Todd said. “When we improved and stepped it up and overpowered them, even though they had more size and more players than us, I think we showed we can play with anybody. We proved that we are a team to watch out for.”

The Tartans have one game left in their nonleague schedule with only one blemish so far, a one-point road loss to Grace Brethren, ranked No. 5 in Division 4. St. Margaret’s plays at Santa Fe Christian of Solana Beach in the San Diego Section next week before entering the San Joaquin League, whose other three members are in Division 12 or 13 and post a combined 6-10 record.

St. Margaret’s looks like a lock to run the rest of its regular-season schedule and claim a league title without much resistance, but Minor is assured the Tartans will keep their focus.

“You’ve got to understand anyone can be beaten at any time,” Minor said. “I’ve played in the NFL, I know. Anybody can come out and beat you on a Friday night. We’ve got to stay the course, do our job, do our assignments, play as a brotherhood and things will go our way. We control our situation, control our stuff, we’ll be all right.”

St. Margaret’s had its focus from the opening kick on Friday.

The Tartans marched effectively down the field on the game’s opening drive and took the lead on a five-yard run by Mott.

The next St. Margaret’s drive also ended in the end zone, but for the Tartans, it was the wrong way. Bishop Diego pinned St. Margaret’s deep, pushed back and blocked a punt in the end zone for a touchdown to tie the game, 7-7.

Another punt miscue set up Bishop Diego at the St. Margaret’s 25-yard line. The Cardinals settled for a 51-yard field goal and the lead, 10-7.

St. Margaret’s wasted no time responding. Two plays later, Lanham hit the line and busted through on his first touchdown run, 66 yards down the Tartan sideline, to regain the lead, 14-10.

Bishop Diego was gifted two points on St. Margaret’s next drive, as a low punt snap in the end zone forced the Tartan punter to put a knee on the ground and be marked down for a safety.

Late in the second quarter, Bishop Diego strung together a 12-play drive with 11 runs that ended in a field goal to take the lead, 15-14, going into halftime.

Then St. Margaret’s locked in for the second half.

The Tartans forced an opening three-and-out, and they capitalized with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Mott to Kenner. Mott rolled left, stopped and threw deep right to hit Kenner in stride for the score and the lead, 21-15.

Two drives later, St. Margaret’s preserved the shutout as Langston Sholl dove in to block the Bishop Diego field goal.

Late in the third quarter, Bishop Diego had its own punt miscue that gave the Tartans the ball at the Cardinals’ 12.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, St. Margaret’s took advantage of the positon with a 12-yard scoring run by Lanham.

Lanham added a 62-yard touchdown run later in the fourth, and the Tartans iced the game with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Mott to Kenner with three minutes remaining.

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