MISSION VIEJO -- Troy Thomas' voice was low, barely above a whisper, as he answered the question an hour before Servite put its No. 1 ranking in the Southland on the line against No. 18 Santa Margarita: “I'm a little nervous, to be honest.”
He was getting ready to face Harry Welch, who like Thomas was a product of Crespi High, who had won eight section titles and two Bowl championships, who had turned Santa Margarita into one of the best teams in the state in only one year.
Thomas had learned from the legend Welch this week while watching Santa Margarita on film, and he fully expected to learn something from the game that was getting ready to be played. “Studying their offense, the things they do, it's good football,” Thomas said. “A lot of people run the same things, but it's the little things that are the difference between success and failure.”
But Thomas' reclamation of Servite -- six years earlier -- has been similarly impressive, and on Friday at Saddleback College, Servite won a share of its sixth consecutive league championship with a 17-10 Trinity League victory over Welch's proteges.
For Thomas, dating to his days as head coach at Crespi, it's his eighth consecutive league title. Like Welch, maybe Thomas knows what he's doing too.
The two men once coached together in an all-star game, and Welch's Canyon Country Canyon team had beaten Thomas' Crespi squad by a touchdown in their only head-to-head meeting.
“They're well-drilled, gifted athletes,” Welch said of Servite. “They have a tradition to play successfully in football. I'm trying to get there, and I'm trying to do it in the first year.”
Next week the Eagles will play Mater Dei, apparently for second place.
Santa Margarita (7-2, 2-1) does so many things similar to Servite (9-0, 3-0), but the biggest difference between the programs is the defense. Servite kept the Eagles -- who were averaging 41.3 points per game -- out of the end zone for the first 47 minutes of the game.
The Friars had certainly bent -- Santa Margarita outgained Servite, 344-310 and was inside the Servite 20-yard line three times. Once the Eagles even got as far as the four-yard line but were forced to settle for a 27-yard field goal by quarterback/kicker Adam Young that made it 10-3 with 3:36 left in the third quarter. Young passed for 171 yards, but didn't have a bigger night because of cornerbacks Karlton Dennis and Jordan Jones. Butch Pauu also had a good game and had one of three sacks; the other two were by linemen Troy Niklas and Travis Averill.
On the drive that ended in a field goal, Servite lineman Jody Thomas had been on the bench after getting hurt on the first play, and the last few plays were done without middle linebacker Matt Inman, who was playing through a sprained ankle suffered last week during his second interception against Mater Dei.
“We got a few breaks and we gave up a few, too. We got a lot of work to do, to be honest,” Inman said of the defense. “We're far from perfect. This doesn't mean anything yet because we haven't accomplished our goals, which is to take it as far as we can.”
Servite now has a 20-game winning streak, which included last year's Pac-5 championship and Division II Bowl Championship; the Friars were ranked No 1 in the state, but lost key skill players and this season have broken in a junior quarterback, Cody Pittman, who ran for 28 yards and passed for 69. The Friars are also banged up. They have lost three running backs, among others.
But the running back who has emerged is Malik Felton, a converted wide receiver, who carried 26 times for 163 yards and a brilliant 37-yard score on the first drive in which he sidestepped into a hole and burned through a pair of defenders in the secondary.
It was a statement, but Santa Margarita's defense responded and Felton had only three more carries for more than 10 yards (11, 11 and 16). The next touchdown didn't come until the fourth quarter when Servite drove 80 yards -- with penalties the Friars were actually backed up to their five-yard line -- before Thomas scored from two yards with 9:57 left in the game. In between had been a 53-yard field goal by Connor Loftus.
After Santa Margarita finally reached the end zone on a six-play, 86-yard drive the culminated with Young's sneak with 47 seconds left, the Eagles tried an onside kick, but the ruling went the way of the Friars.
That's the way most things have gone. The way of the Friars.
There was no reason for Thomas to be nervous at all.
710 ESPN Radio's Beto Duran's postgame interview with Servite's Troy Niklas.
Duran's interview with Servite running back Malik Felton: