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Football: The gamble that paid off for Santa Margarita

Trailing by one point and facing fourth-and-goal two feet away from a state championship, Santa Margarita had a crucial decision to make in the waning moments of Friday night's CIF Division I bowl game against San Jose Bellarmine Prep at Home Depot Center in Carson.

Despite having one of the most reliable kickers in the Southland in senior John McGrory, who began the game having made 65 of 67 extra points this season and was 4-for-4 on the night, Coach Harry Welch instead put his faith in USC-bound offensive lineman Max Tuerk and junior quarterback Johnny Stanton. It was a risky move that, had it failed, would've opened the door for criticism and second guessing, but taking risks has defined Welch's career. That and winning. 

Once again, risk resulted in reward against the Bells, as Stanton broke the plane of the goal line on a dive over the top with 16 seconds remaining and the Eagles held on for a dramatic 42-37 triumph--Welch's third state bowl victory with his third different school. No other coach has won with two. 

"Absolutely, I considered it," Welch said of kicking a field goal. "I've always been a gambler. That's who I am. With Tuerk and Stanton, we've ridden that horse to the wire, they brought us here and I believed it was the right choice. At that angle it was no guarantee we make that kick or we could've fumbled the snap. And hey, if it didn't work at least I lost with my best. I'll take Johnny [Stanton] on my team over anyone in America."  

Adding his nine Southern Section titles to the mix, Welch improved to 12-1 in CIF championship games. Perhaps no coach prepares his team better than the 66-year-old who previously piloted Canyon Country Canyon and San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret's to state bowl wins. What's more, Welch calls the plays on both offense and defense. 

"I can't really put this into perspective right now," a grinning Welch said afterwards while hugging his wife Cindee. "Probably 10 years from now by the fireplace with my bride, sipping hot chocolate, I may think about it. I can say this, it will be a hard record to break. I don't think winning [state bowl games] with four teams will be done in my lifetime."

-- Steve Galluzzo

 
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