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After all the passing yardage that dominated the first half of play Friday night, Sept. 1, at Saddleback College, it was an old-fashioned run up the middle that won the game for St. Margaret’s Episcopal.
Running back Matt Arena’s four-yard plunge into the endzone put St. Margaret’s ahead with just over two minutes to play, and the Tartans emerged victorious from what should be called the “Battle for the Mission Bell,” topping Capistrano Valley Christian, 26-20.
Arena’s score finished off a drive and a night where senior quarterback Max Ruff willed St. Margaret’s down the field.
Ruff finished with 225 yards and three touchdowns through the air, completing 23 of 34 passes.
Friday also marked head coach Dan O’Shea’s first win on the job for the Tartans.
O’Shea, who spent the last eight seasons at Corona del Mar, credited Ruff, the offensive line and the receivers for what they did on the final drive, which began at their own 23-yard-line and took nearly six minutes off the clock.
“Their execution was flawless. It didn’t matter the down and distance, they found a way to get it done,” O’Shea said. “I’m just so proud of these Tartans. They played (relentlessly) tonight.”
With only a three-and-out under their belts in the second half, St. Margaret’s must have come off the bench cold with roughly eight minutes remaining in the game. Nonetheless, Ruff was locked in.
The offense finally earned solid gains on the ground, and Ruff completed five of six passes to lead his team down the field. The last completion–a catch Luke Newman made on the sideline for 15 yards–was iffy at best in the eyes of Capistrano Valley Christian fans but the ruling was not overturned.
CVCS dominated the time of possession for the second half as it came out of the locker room with an intent to run the ball. The Eagles’ approach worked initially, but CVCS failed to convert two fourth-down attempts deep inside St. Margaret’s territory.
Following St. Margaret’s go-ahead score with 2:25 remaining, the Eagles’ last possession fizzled out as quarterback Nate Richie couldn’t connect with a receiver on third or fourth down. CVCS then didn’t have enough remaining timeouts to stop the clock or St. Margaret’s march to victory.
O’Shea credited the Eagles’ team and coaching staff, saying his Tartans were fortunate to get the stops they needed, especially as they dealt with health issues.
Regardless, his team kept fighting, following his halftime message.
“Every single snap, whether it’s an inch, a yard, or 20, we’ve got to fight for every hunk of grass out there together,” O’Shea said, characterizing his locker room speech. “Tonight, these boys did, and they found a way to get a big win against a really quality program in CVC.”
For most of the first half, the game appeared to boil down to the duo of Ruff and receiver Will Viola trading scores with Richie and receiver Max Krosky.
When Ruff hit Viola for a 27-yard strike to begin the game, Richie came back with a 40-yard bomb to Krosky, and on it went. With the Eagles down six points with 2:44 left in the first half, they benefited from a defensive pass interference call to continue their march down the field.
Krosky stole a jump ball from the defender to end up with a 39-yard gain, and Richie found running back JP Synnott on a wheel route on the next play for a 10-yard touchdown.
The Eagles’ extra-point attempt missed, and both teams went into the break tied, 20-20.
Richie threw for 181 yards and three scores in the first two quarters, on 15-of-22 passing. He finished 23-of-33 passing for 245 yards and three touchdowns.
Krosky led all receivers with 168 yards and two scores on 11 catches, with 148 yards in the first half, and Viola totaled 116 yards and three touchdowns on eight receptions.
Synnott led all rushers with 74 yards on 15 carries.
St. Margaret’s heads to Muir of Pasadena next Friday, Sept. 8, and CVC will host El Segundo next Thursday, Sept. 7, back at Saddleback College.