Tustin 36 - Eagles 33

MISSION VIEJO, CA., October 5, 2001 – The Eagles bounced back from a 17-point third quarter deficit and were holding on to a late 33-29 lead; however, Richard Rowland's fifth Td with only 1:59 left, and two costly Eagle fumbles in the final moments allowed the Tustin Tillers to hold on for an exciting 36-33 win over the Eagles before an emotional 4,500 fans at Saddleback College. The loss dropped Santa Margarita to 3-1-1 while Tustin improved to 3-2.

The Eagles and Tillers, playing for the seventh time in nine years, engaged in a titanic offensive battle reminiscent of the 1997 CIF Championship Game as they combined for nearly 1,000 yards of total offense, ten touchdowns and 38 first downs. However, on this night, it was the Tillers who took advantage of Eagle miscues and came out with the hard fought victory. Leading 33-29 with 4:00 left, the Eagles stopped the Tillers on a 4th down-and-goal on their own two. After two runs, Marshall Tharpe found Bobby Whithorne for an 18-yard gain; however, he was stripped of the ball and Winter Welz of the Tillers recovered at the 23. Tustin then moved to the Eagle one on three plays plus the help of an illegal block penalty before Rowland bulled over from the one on the nest play with 1:59 left to put the Tillers up 36-33. On the ensuing drive, Tharpe (23 of 29 for 297 yards and three Tds) picked apart the Tustin defense by completing five of six passes to move the Eagles 72 yards in only 51 seconds. From there he faced a 2nd-and-goal on the Tustin 8 with 1:08 left. Unfortunately, as Tharpe dropped back to pass, he was stripped of the ball by a blitzing Brian Judd who also recovered it on the Tustin 12 effectively ending the game.

Early on the Eagles looked as sharp as they had in the Norco game in Week 4. They wasted no time in putting together two scoring drives on their first three drives and drove as far as the Tiller 23 on another. Tharpe got the evening started with a two-yard at the 9:35 mark of the first quarter putting the Eagles up 6-0. The key play in the drive was a 48-yard pass from Tharpe to Whithorne (12 receptions for 137 yards) setting the Eagles up with a first and goal on the two. Rowland responded with a 52-yard run seven plays later, which put the Tillers up 7-6. After the Eagles were stopped on downs at the Tiller 23, and Tustin punted it back, Tharpe drove Santa Margarita 64 yards on nine plays capped by his nine-yard scoring strike to Whithorne to go up 12-7 with 9:11 left in the half. The Td was set up by White's 22-yard run and three other timely receptions by Whithorne including two third down conversions. Failure on the two-point conversion play seemed to set the tone for the balance of the quarter as the Eagles ran only five more plays and the Tillers found life on their patented wing sweep. Rowland responded by finishing off a 12-play 80-yard drive with a 19-yard Td with 3:47 left in the half to move the Tillers ahead 13-12. Taking a page out of the Eagle playbook, Tustin Coach Myron Miller called for an on-sides kick that was recovered by the Tillers at the Eagle 47. Tustin needed only four plays to score as Rowland hit paydirt from two yards out at the 2:28 mark to go up 20-12. After an Eagle punt the Tillers quickly picked up three first downs and tacked on a 20-yard field goal by Kyle Dixon with 0:12 left to go into the locker room up 23-12.

The second half started off with a 77-yard jaunt by Rowland only 57 seconds in to put the Tillers up 29-12. For the next 21 minutes the Eagles dominated and nearly pulled out the win. A 52-yard kickoff return by Cole Devitis (4 receptions, 49 yards) and two runs by Ashton White moved the ball to the Tiller 33 where Tharpe found Jason Graban for a 33-yard scoring toss to close the gap to 29-18. A two-point conversion pass from Tharpe to Whithorne made it 29-20. After forcing a Tustin punt, the Eagles marched 40 yards on only five plays as Tharpe found White on a shovel pass from nine yards out to close the gap to 29-27. Yet another Tiller punt led to a four-play 79-yard drive highlighted by runs of 10 and 11 yards by White (14 carries for 98 yards, one Td rushing, 2 receptions 30 yards, one Td) and a 13-yard reception by Devitis led to a 30-yard Td scamper by White to put the Eagles on top 33-29 with 11:22 left. (White's second Td marked the fifth consecutive game where he had scored at least two). Tustin then went on a 14-play, 77-yard drive and taking over 7:00 off the clock before Marquis Malcolm was stopped in the backfield on the Tiller 4 by White.

The Eagle offense had another highly productive outing, gaining 412 yards and a season-high 19 first downs. Tharpe's 23 completions tied Sean O'Brien and Derek Yankoff's team record and his 297 yards passing were a career best. Defensively, the Eagles took a bend-but-don't-break approach and looked good at times but shaky at others. Tustin gained 516 total yards - the most ever allowed by an Eagle team - including 484 on the ground, on a whopping 72 plays, but they essentially won the game by virtue of an opportunistic defense. White came within one tackle of setting the school mark for stops in a game by registering a career-high 22. Other standouts included Thomas Cappelletti who added a personal best 19 tackles while Kyle Rutenbar and Matt Rupp added nine each.

Tustin 7 16 6 7 36
Santa Margarita 6 6 15 6 33

SM – Tharpe 2 run (kick failed)
THS – Rowland 48 run (Dixon kick)
SM – Whithorne 9 pass from Tharpe (pass failed)
THS – Rowland 19 run (kick blocked)
THS – Rowland 4 run (Dixon kick)
THS – FG Dixon 21
THS – Rowland 77 run (kick failed)
SM – Graben 33 pass from Tharpe (Graben pass from Tharpe)
SM – White 9 pass from Tharpe (Graben kick)
SM – White 30 run (pass fail)
THS – Rowland 2 run (Dixon kick)

Rushing: THS - Rowland 28-305, Miller 16-99; SM - White 15-95, Walker 1-19
Passing: THS - Rowland 1-1-32, Bales 0-5-0; SM - Tharpe 22-28-279
Receiving: THS - Barrett 1-32; SM - Whithorne 12-137, Jackson 3-41


By Adrian Peters
Sports Information Director