Santa Margarita (12-2) vs. San Jose Bellarmine Prep (12-1) at Home Depot Center, Friday, 8 p.m.
Santa Margarita is in a CIF State Bowl game for the first time after winning the Southern Section's Pac-5 Division, but coach Harry Welch is in his third; he has won with Canyon Country Canyon in the first Division I Bowl, and San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret's in the first Small Schools Bowl.
No team has played better opponents over the past six weeks than Santa Margarita: St. John Bosco (8-4), Servite (10-2), Bishop Amat (6-5), Long Beach Poly (10-2), Mission Viejo (10-3 and San Clemente (12-2). The only setback in that stretch was to Servite, 42-41, in overtime in the Trinity League finale; at the time, Servite was ranked No. 2 in the state and among the top 25 nationally.
Johnny Stanton (9 TDs, 9 int.) continues to make big plays, even though they may not result in touchdown passes. Stanton makes things happen, and he is averaging 103 yards rushing per game. Servite couldn't stop him, Poly couldn't stop him, Mission Viejo couldn't stop him, and San Clemente couldn't stop him, so it's going to be a tall order for Bellarmine to do something that those school couldn't.
Ryan Wolpin (27 TDs, 116 yards/game) is also effective behind the SMCHS offensive line. Led by USC-bound Max Tuerk (6-6, 296), who is one of two seniors in the starting lineup on offense, the line averages 299 pounds. By contrast, Bellarmine lists only one player bigger than 225 pounds.
The essence of this game boils down to the success of Bellarmine's offense against Santa Margarita's defense.
The Eagles haven't faced anything like it this season, and Bellarmine runs the misdirection offense brilliantly with quarterback Travis McHugh (11 TDs, 3 int.), who has averaged 106 yards rushing and has surpassed 200 yards in two of the last three weeks, including 203 yards in a 41-13 victory over Palo Alto in the Central Coast Section's Open championship. McHugh has scored 21 touchdowns. The other leading ball carriers are Tim Crawley (19 TDs, 110 yards/game) and Justin Taliaferro (7 TDs, 57 yards/game).
Bellarmine lost the Division I Bowl to Oceanside in 2009, 24-19. The Bells' only loss by this season came in double-overtime to Concord De La Salle in the first game, 26-23.
Don't be surprised if Bellarmine controls the action early with an offense that gives Santa Margarita fits, but don't be surprised if Santa Margarita adapts and begins to wear on the Bells and take control late in the game.