Martin HendersonHarry Welch and Santa Margarita celebrate their Division I State Bowl victory over Bellarmine.
CARSON -- From the stands, the crowd chanted "Johnny Stanton! Johnny Stanton!"
And Johnny Stanton delivered for them. He directed Santa Margarita 80 yards in the last two minutes, delivering his team and Coach Harry Welch with a Division I Bowl Championship on Friday.
Stanton's dive over the top of his huge offensive line -- and reaching over the plane of the end zone -- from one yard on fourth down with 16 seconds remaining gave Santa Margarita a 42-37 victory over San Jose Bellarmine Prep at Home Depot Center.
Stanton, one of nine juniors starting on offense, accounted for 375 of the Eagles' 407 yards of offense. He ran for 69 and passed for 306. He threw for four touchdowns and ran for two, both of them coming in the final seven minutes.
In victory, Santa Margarita (13-2) defeated a Bellarmine team that finished 12-2, its only other loss a season-opening 26-23 double-overtime decision to Concord De La Salle, which will play Westlake in the Open Bowl on Saturday.
Although Santa Margarita is typically a second-half team, it was Bellarmine that assumed control in the third quarter after going into the half tied at 21-21. Bellarmine quarterback Travis McHugh proved a worthy adversary of Stanton's as he accounted for 305 of Bellarine's 401 yards.
McHugh kicked a 24-yard field goal for a 24-21 lead, and guided his team 53 yards with Justin Taliaferro scoring from three yards with 9:50 to play. McHugh missed the PAT, but the Bells had a two-score lead, 30-21.
The Eagles drove 80 yards, the last 32 on a pass from Stanton to Connor O'Brien for a 30-28 lead with 7:52 remaining.
After a night of not getting the breaks, Santa Margarita got its break of the night. Matt Anderson returned an interception 16 yards to the one-yard line, and then Stanton scored on a dive. It was the only turnover for Bellarmine, which recovered three Santa Margarita fumbles. That made it 36-30.
But Bellarmine marched down the field, going 74 yards and scoring with 1:46 to go. Welch, though, called timeout before the play and told his defense to let Bellarmine score on the next play -- which Taliaferro did from the four to go ahead, 37-36.
That gave Stanton the time to move his team down the field.
Which he did -- again.
He completed passes of 36 and 13 yards to River Cracraft, who caught eight passes for 187 yards and two scores. Stanton then ran for 22, to get to the nine-yard line. Stanton ran to the four, then the two, then the one.
And then he scored.
Welch eschewed kicking the field goal from the one-yard line even though John McGrory 70-of-72 on comparable PATs, though he would have been at an extreme angle. Welch said afterward that he had ridden USC-bound lineman Max Tuerk and Stanton all year long, and he was comfortable winning -- or losing -- with those guys.
Stanton was stopped on the two-point conversion, but it was enough. Bellarmine had one play left from the 50, but Mack Pierson sacked McHugh to end the game. It was one of only two sacks of McHugh.
Stanton finished 14-of-25 for 306 yards, and he rushed 20 times for 69 -- an average hurt by getting sacked four times.
The first half ended in a deadlock, 21-21. Santa Margarita committed two turnovers, and the way the Eagles moved the ball against the Bellarmine defense they were both big. The first one, a fumble on their second play from scrimmage, gave the Bells possession at the 18 and two plays later Conner Jauch scored from 14.
The second was a fumble with 1:51 left in the half at the end of Stanton's 28-yard pass to Cracraft. It gave Bellarmine possession at the Eagles' 39, but the half ran out before the Bells could get past the 11-yard line.
Stanton found open receivers throughout the first half. He completed touchdown passes of 31 and 10 to Cracraft, and 41 to Sean Modster. After falling behind, 7-0, the two long scoring passes gave Santa Margarita a 14-7 lead; Bellarmine's McHugh broke a leg tackle on fourth-and-two for a 47-yard score to make it 14-14, and McHugh passed 40 yards to Jauch with 3:15 left to tie the score at 21-21.