As backstories go, there are some intriguing ones in the Pac-5 championship game Saturday night at Angel Stadium.
San Clemente (12-1) has a balanced, high-powered offense that has reached the finals for only the second time in its long history with an interim coach.
Santa Margarita (11-2) has a balanced, high-powered offense that has a second-year coach going for his ninth section title.
No matter who wins, there should be plenty of angles. A couple weeks before the season began, San Clemente's longtime coach Eric Patton was removed for his role in an alleged kickback scheme involving a local apparel company. Enter Jon Hamro, the school's athletic director, who found the Triton players rallying together and being of one focus, one purpose.
Apart from one hiccup, a disastrous first half against South Coast League rival Mission Viejo that cost San Clemente a perfect season, the Tritons have been fantastic. They have ripped through playoff opponents like they were JV teams with an average score of 45-15. Utah-bound quarterback Travis Wilson (24 TDs, 7 int., 163 yards/game) can not only pass, but is an outstanding situational runner and has nine rushing touchdowns; at 6 feet 6 and 215 pounds, he's not easy to bring down.
Behind tackle Kyle Murphy and an offensive line that is among the best in the state, the Tritons also have a tough ground attack led by Mike Elespuru (14 TDs, 118 yards/game), and a big-play threat in receiver Christian Tober, who scored three touchdowns last week -- one a kickoff return -- on plays of 70 yards or more.
They, along with a defense led by linebackers Herbert Gamboa, Chad Foster, Landon Cook and Nico Ruberti, will try to bring San Clemente its first championship; they lost in their only other appearance in 1979.
San Clemente hasn't faced a league champion or seeded team in its playoff run. After beating second-place Lakewood, the Tritons defeated third-place teams St. John Bosco and Tesoro. But in Santa Margarita, the Tritons will be facing a second-place team that played even with top-seeded Servite before losing in overtime, 42-41, in the Trinity League finale and has since scored playoff victories over Bishop Amat, third-seeded Long Beach Poly and second-seeded Mission Viejo, 21-20.
Like San Clemente, Santa Margarita has a powerful offensive line led by USC-bound Max Tuerk, and they are blocking for two of the Southland's outstanding junior playmakers, Johnny Stanton (8 TDs, 9 int., 139 yards/game) and Ryan Wolpin (26 TDs, 119 yards/game).
Stanton's heroics seem to be growing by the week. As a dual threat, he has grown increasingly unstoppable, and he spearheaded the game-winning drive that beat Mission Viejo in the semifinals that ended with his dive into the end zone with 62 seconds remaining. With his 120-yard rushing performance against Mission, Stanton is averaging 100.3 yards per game, and he has scored 22 rushing touchdowns.
They are part of the turnaround orchestrated by Coach Harry Welch, who won five titles with Canyon Country Canyon and three with St. Margaret's. When he took over in 2010, Santa Margarita was coming off a 3-7 season; two years in, they are playing for the marquee title in the Southern Section. And they're doing it with only two seniors, both linemen, on the starting offense.
As championships go, this one seems evenly matched because both teams are mirrors of the other.