LONG BEACH -- Johnny Stanton did just about whatever he pleased on Friday night. The 6-foot-3 and 200-pound junior quarterback from Santa Margarita threw the ball well and picked up plenty of yards on the ground. And there was not much Long Beach Poly could do about it.
In the end, the Eagles prevailed with a 49-16 victory. But not before Stanton completed 11-of-17 passes for 105 yards. Can't forget to mention he gained 125 yards rushing and scored four times in a Southern Section Pac-5 Division quarterfinal game at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“I don't feel like I had a target on my back, or anything. I knew that Long Beach Poly was prepared,'' Stanton said. “I felt pretty good overall. I mean, I'm sure I'll be sore in the morning. But it will be worth it. To come in here and get a victory like this gives us a lot of momentum.''
The Eagles (10-2) entered the showdown No. 10 in the ESPNLosAngeles.com rankings. Long Beach Poly (10-2, on the other hand, was ranked No. 4 in the most recent poll.
Stanton got stronger as the game went on. That was most evident at the start of the fourth quarter. He carried the ball multiple times and ended up scoring from five yards out on fourth down to increase the advantage to 28-16 with 11:50 remaining.
Santa Margarita did not let up. Ryan Wolpin scored two rushing touchdowns, a 60-yarder and a 10-yarder. Alex Suchesk added an eight-yard run for the final margin.
“Johnny was great, he carried us tonight, he had a heck of a game,'' Wolpin said. “He's our guy. He made a lot of critical plays at the biggest moments of this game.''
The defense for Long Beach Poly stepped up its efforts in the second half. The unit forced the Eagles to turn the ball over after failing on fourth down in the third quarter.
Gerard Wicks took over from there. He was on the receiving end of a 47-yard pass and scored on 15-yard run that cut the the deficit to 21-16 with 3:56 left in the third quarter.
Stanton was particularly dangerous on the ground in the first half.
With protection breaking down late in the second quarter, he scrambled out of the pocket and took off in the end zone direction. From five yards out, he jumped toward the goal line to score on an 18-yard run and give the Eagles a 21-6 lead with :43 left before intermission.
Conner O'Brien came up with a couple of key plays in the second quarter. The junior picked off a pair of passes, the first of which ruined any hopes of a successful trick play. Minutes later, his second theft gave him the Eagles single-season record for interceptions with eight.
Mistakes plagued Long Beach Poly throughout the second quarter. A penalty moved the Eagles deep into Jackrabbits territory. On the next snap, Stanton scored, of course. He went airborne over two defenders on a seven-yard run to increase the advantage to 21-6 at 9:33.
The first time Stanton got his hands on the ball, he directed a drive and capped things off with a three-yard run to give Santa Margarita a 7-6 lead with 6:12 left in the first quarter.
“As an offensive lineman, you love blocking for a teammate like Johnny; he's a stud,'' said Max Tuerk, a senior who has committed to USC. “Teams don't know whether to prepare for the pass or the run. My job is to block to the whistle and let him do his job back there for us.''
Long Beach Poly showed flashes of explosiveness in the first quarter.
Randall Goforth returned the opening kickoff to midfield and the Jackrabbits were in business. A few plays later, Wicks scored on a 46-yard run. All of a sudden, seemingly before the Eagles knew any better, they trailed 6-0 with 10:42 remaining in the first quarter.
Wicks finished up with 90 yards rushing and 69 receiving.
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.