Skill players score touchdowns, but many coaches believe games are won on the offensive and defensive lines, and that's where Santa Margarita appears geared for battle.
In its second season under the direction of Harry Welch (232-51-2), Santa Margarita has a huge offensive front, and a pair of defensive ends that Welch says might be the best pair of bookends that he has coached.
Any discussion of line play begins with USC-bound left tackle Max Tuerk (6-6, 296) on a starting group that averages 6 feet 4 and 299 pounds. Tuerk is joined by left guard Cole Luther (6-0, 286), center Dane Crane (6-3, 295), right guard Erik Bunte (6-7, 301) and right tackle Riley Sorenson (6-5, 316). Nimble quarterback Johnny Stanton has to feel pretty good about having those guys leading the way.
The defensive ends that excite Welch so much are Chris Frost (6-4, 258) and Sean Donegan (6-4, 204), who has made huge strides since playing last season on the junior varsity.
Big and physical is a powerful combination.
Here's a closer look at the Eagles.
Team: Santa Margarita
Coach: Harry Welch, second year.
2010 Record: 9-3, lost to Mission Viejo in the second round of the Southern Section Pac-5 playoffs.
Returning starters: Five total. Two on offense, three on defense.
Key players on offense: OT Max Tuerk (USC), WR/DB River Cracraft, QB Johnny Stanton, RB Ryan Wolpin, WR/DB Conner O’Brien.
Key players on defense: DE Chris Frost, NG Mack Pierson, DE Sean Donegan, LB Matt Anderson.
Difference maker: Cracraft (6-0, 195), a junior, is the Eagles' most gifted athlete but may not play for a few weeks because of a shoulder injury. When he returns to the field, opponents will find he has an incredible sense for going to the ball — and for picking up yards after he gets it.
Newcomers: DB Konner Kafentzis, a transfer from Salt Lake City; WR Sean Modster, a transfer from Capistrano Valley; DB Reid Andrew, DB Houston Agan, DE Sean Donegan, NT Ian Dewert, LB Sammy Gibbs, OL Eric Bunte.
Not to be missed: Santa Margarita vs. Mater Dei at Santa Ana Stadium, Oct. 13. It's the Trinity League opener, and both teams know a victory here will go a long way toward getting one of three playoff berths. Not only is the game valuable in the standings, but for momentum, too, with big games looming the following week.
Coach’s comment: “Our biggest concern is inexperience,” Welch said. “We have two offensive seniors starting and three defensive players with experience. With good fortune, a lack of injuries and the maturation of our young team we should be OK. The work ethic, attitude and effort has been outstanding.”
Final analysis: Welch has won large- and small-school State Bowl Championships with Canyon Country Canyon and St. Margaret's Episcopal. His impact as a coach was seen last year when the Eagles did a 180 — they went from no Trinity League wins to four in 2010, and from three wins overall to nine. That was just in his first season. Now, with a full year under Welch and his influence taking an even stronger hold, the program might be ready to take the next step and dethrone six-time defending league champion Servite and make a run for the Pac-5 title.