By Zach Cavanagh
MISSION VIEJO – As the old saying from baseball legend Frank Robinson goes, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” even if you do it two weeks in a row.
The JSerra football team forced an early turnover and again scored on special teams to keep up with an explosive Santa Margarita offense, but ultimately, the Eagles converted a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter for a one-point lead that held up to defeat the Lions, 29-28, on Friday, Oct. 7 at Saddleback College.
“We left too many plays out, offensively and defensively,” JSerra coach Scott McKnight said. “We’ve got to execute better. Thought they did a nice job, but there’s plays there we didn’t make. We’ve got to make those plays.”
JSerra (3-4, 0-2) dropped its second straight one-score game in the Trinity League, after the Lions gave nationally top-ranked Mater Dei it could handle last week in a 21-13 loss.
JSerra, which was ranked No. 11 in CIF-SS by CalPreps entering Friday, next travels to St. John Bosco, which was also nationally top-ranked and lost to Mater Dei in Santa Ana on Friday, 17-7.
Santa Margarita (5-2, 0-2) neared school-record marks in the offensive passing game before JSerra slowed the game down in the second half. Senior quarterback Jaxon Potter completed 34 of 42 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns with junior receiver Emmett Mosley catching 14 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown.
The Eagles, who were ranked No. 17 in CIF-SS by CalPreps, host Servite next Friday.
Potter threw for 319 of his 382 yards in the first half, but JSerra forced a fumble at its own four-yard line on Santa Margarita’s opening drive, which was recovered by junior Jack Munro, and got its second kickoff-return touchdown in as many weeks on a 90-yard runback by junior Clarence Chaney to keep the game level, 21-21 going into halftime.
JSerra got the ball to open the second half, and the Lions dictated a change in the game’s pace.
Sophomore running back George Perez carried the ball 10 times on a 14-play, 80-yard seven-minute drive, and junior quarterback Zander Singh rolled right and hit senior Vance Blyth who dove to the pylon to complete a 6-yard touchdown pass and put the Lions in front, 28-21.
Perez carried the ball 23 times for 71 yards and a touchdown. Singh completed 12 of 16 passes for 127 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
On the ensuing Santa Margarita drive, penalties went for and against JSerra, as the Eagles began their own slow march down the field.
A holding penalty negated a Santa Margarita touchdown, and while the JSerra defense mostly kept the Eagles in front of them, the Lions were flagged for roughing-the-passer and a facemask to put Santa Margarita in first-and-goal.
Sophomore running back Taurian Nash ran in his second touchdown for Santa Margarita, and then, the Eagles made what stood up as the game-winning decision.
Back in the second quarter, JSerra blocked a Santa Margarita extra point, which forced the Eagles to go for a two-point conversion later in that quarter. That moment stuck with Santa Margarita, and in ironic turn, the Lions’ special teams expertise turned against them.
Santa Margarita went for two and the lead, and the Eagles got it on a two-point conversion pass to go ahead, 29-28, with 9:46 left in the game.
“We were ready to go, because we blocked a kick,” McKnight said. “Our effort on special teams almost hurt us. It put them in a situation where they didn’t trust kicking the ball.”
JSerra got two more opportunities to answer, and the Lions got into Santa Margarita territory on its ensuing drive. However, a pass on 4th-and-13 at the Eagles 32-yard line didn’t find its target, and on the next drive, the shotgun snap was dropped on a 4th-and-1 for a sack.
“We had a chance to execute a play down here, and we missed our guy,” McKnight said. “Just missed plays, that’s the best I can put it.”
Santa Margarita got on the board first with a 13-yard pass from Potter to senior Niko Lopez in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead. JSerra matched it on the next drive with big runs from junior Kamar Garbourel and a 10-yard touchdown run by Perez.
The Eagles’ next drive went into the second quarter, where Santa Margarita went back ahead with a 2-yard scoring run by Nash. JSerra blocked the extra point to keep it at a six-point deficit, 13-7.
Following a fourth-down stop of Santa Margarita, JSerra put together a 12-play drive that was helped by Eagles penalties and capped with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Singh to sophomore Axel Olander. The Lions went ahead on the extra point, 14-13.
Santa Margarita worked quickly on a three-minute touchdown drive that ended with 6-yard TD pass from Potter to Mosley, and the Eagles converted their first two-point conversion to go ahead by seven points, 21-14, with just over a minute left in the half.
On the ensuing kickoff, Chaney received the ball and ran to his right, picking up blocks along the Santa Margarita sideline. Chaney used all of his effort to finish the run and score on the 90-yard kickoff return to send the game into halftime tied, 21-21.
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports and Instagram @South_OC_Sports. Email at email@example.com.