FOOTBALL CAPTURES CIF PAC-5 AND DIVISION I STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
The Eagles made history as they soared to CIF and state championship wins during the 2011 football season. Despite finishing second in the arduous Trinity League, the Eagles caught fire as they entered the playoffs and rode that wave all the way to the state championship game, ultimately earning the team a Top 25 national ranking.
“Our team believed in one another and the entire Santa Margarita community believed in us,” said Head Coach Harry Welch. “I am so proud to be an Eagle.”
The 2011 team set a number of records including single game, single season and team records. Behind one of the most dominant offensive lines in California history, the Eagles showcased the dangerous quarterback-running back tandem in juniors Johnny Stanton and Ryan Wolpin. Complimented by a talented receiving corps anchored by River Cracraft and Sean Modster, the Eagles had a multi-faceted offense that could beat you on the ground or in the air.
After a hot 5-0 start, the Eagles encountered their first hiccup with a 21-14 loss to Mater Dei in their first Trinity League game. The resilient team bounced back and rattled off three consecutive league wins before their final game of the regular season, a 43-42 overtime loss to Servite in a classic Trinity League thriller. The Eagles went into the playoffs and fired off a series of convincing wins, including a 49-16 win over a talented Long Beach Poly team. After prevailing 21-20 in a showdown with crosstown rival Mission Viejo, the Eagles then went on to defeat the Tritons of San Clemente in the CIF-SS Pac-5 Championship game at Angel Stadium. The win over San Clemente marked the first CIF Championship for the Football program since 1997. The Eagles went on to represent the south in the CIF Division 1 State Bowl game at the Home Depot Center, the first appearance in a state championship game in Santa Margarita history. The Eagles came out on top in a see-saw battle over Bellarmine Prep of San Jose by a score of 42-37. With the Bells tying up the game with under two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Eagles answered with an NFLlike drive by marching 80 yards under two minutes. Presented with a chance for a potential go-ahead field goal, Welch opted to go for it on fourth down, a decision that did not backfire.
“I was thinking field goal, but he's [coach Harry Welch] a good kind of insane,” Stanton said about going for it on fourth down instead of kicking the potential game-winning field goal. “He has so much confidence in our offense, I knew we were going for it.”
After a Stanton 1 yard go-ahead touchdown, the Eagles assumed the lead with only seconds left to negotiate. A determined defense handled business on the Bells' final drive with a sack by senior Chris Frost and company, sealing the deal on the Eagles first-ever state championship title as the clock hit all zeros.
With the Eagles rise to the top, the team garnered abundant media attention making headlines on news and sports enthusiast websites across the country as well as landing coverage in daily papers and TV spots. ABC 7 Sports reporter Rob Fukuzaki recognized Coach Welch honoring him on Sports Zone as the 2011 ABC7 NFL High School Coach of the Year. The Eagles also were selected as one of two county teams for The Orange County Register's Tough Knocks video series. The show chronicled two teams through their entire season. As luck would have it, our Eagles took captivated viewers on a journey to the high school football promise land, the state championship game.
At the conclusion of the improbable 2011 season, the team began to reap the accolades of a successful campaign.
Santa Margarita played host to the Max Preps Tour of Champions as the Army National Guard presented the team with a trophy for being one of the top teams in the U.S. The Eagles were also honored by California Sen. Mimi Walters, Saddleback Church's renowned Pastor Rick Warren, as well as the Rancho Santa Margarita City Council and Oakley.
This may have been the first time the Santa Margarita Football program appeared in a state bowl game, but it marked the third journey to the big stage for the captain of the ship. Head Coach Harry Welch has guided three different schools to three state championship games, posting three wins in the process.
“I have been blessed to be with three great communities, three outstanding schools, and three teams who strove for perfection and settled for excellence,” Welch said.
Not only did Coach Welch convoy three teams to the promise land, he has also helped develop some of the finest individual talent. The Eagles named their first ever U.S. Army All-American in Max Tuerk this season, who also made the ESPNHS All-American First team, both nationally-based selections. More locally, seven Eagles were named to the Orange County Register's first team, four of which are returning next year. First team honors went to Ryan Wolpin, Johnny Stanton, Riley Sorenson, the aforementioned Max Tuerk, Chris Frost, Connor O'Brien, and John McGrory.
The entire Santa Margarita community and beyond followed the Eagles and their rise to the top. The success of the 2011 team brought a renewed sense of school spirit amongst the community including bringing many Eagle alumni out for Friday night lights.
“It was the most school spirit and energy I have felt in my four years at SM,” said senior Dani Zakett who came out to every football game this season. “Everyone went to the games and everyone supported the team.”
Like years past, the Strader Grotto was packed with players, families, and former Eagle football players alike for the post game prayer and reflection. The team continued tradition by celebrating their wins at the local BallPark Pizza. Owner as well current and alumni parent Jim Poettgen, a member of the freshman football and track and field coaching staffs, kept the lights and ovens on at BallPark late welcoming the boys with complimentary pizza after each game.
“I can remember the young football players that entered BallPark after every home game, from Carson Palmer and the Finnerans back in the 90's, to this year's Stanton, Wolpin, and Max Tuerk and the gang,” Poettgen said. “All of them have respected and thanked me for feeding them and keeping a safe place open for them after the game. That makes it all worthwhile.”
With this historic season now in the books, the Eagles will look to build on their recent success and continue the tradition that was built on the shoulders of former players and coaches in the years past. When asked what his message to the 2012 team would be Welch said, “It is much more difficult to maintain excellence at the highest level than it is to achieve it. The challenges for this year will be greater than any before.”
Wings Spring 2012