By Dan Albano
MISSION VIEJO – Servite's football team endured an upset loss and two lopsided defeats the last few weeks, but the Friars showed Thursday night that it takes more than that to keep them down.
Or out of the playoffs, for that matter.
Blaze McKibbin threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns and Noah Avinger and Zedakiah Centers each intercepted passes as No. 10 Servite kept its playoff hopes alive in CIF-SS Division 1 with a crucial 30-23 victory against No. 6 Santa Margarita at Trabuco Hills High.
McKibbin, a senior, capped a swift six-play, 85-yard drive by tossing a 5-yard touchdown to a leaping Cade Fuller with 4:15 left in the fourth quarter to give Servite (4-3, 1-2) a 30-20 lead. The extra-point failed.
Servite's defense then held in the frantic closing minutes. After an Avinger interception at his 5 with 1:23, the Eagles (3-5, 0-3) kept the pressure on by forcing a punt. A good punt return by Chase Nenad led to a 30-yard field goal by Giacomo Boccuzzi with 5.4 seconds left to trim Servite's lead to 30-23.
Boccuzzi then recovered the onside kick up the middle of the field. Quarterback Peter Costelli launched a long pass toward the end zone on the final play, but the Friars forced an incompletion to seal the victory.
"It gives us a chance (at the playoffs)," said Servite coach Troy Thomas, whose team could land an at-large berth to the playoffs. "Rough couple of weeks ... and they just keep coming to practice, keep working hard. They've got great attitudes, these guys. They've come a long way. I'm proud of them."
Running back Derek Fuentes helped spark the winning drive by breaking a 38-yard run to the Santa Margarita 8. Two plays later, McKibbin found Fuller.
Fuentes rushed for 100 of his 116 yards in the second half. McKibbin completed 21 of 26 passes, including a spectacular 30-yard TD to junior Zedakiah Centers in the middle of the second quarter. Centers made a slick grab on the run in the back of the end zone as Servite opened a 17-7 lead.
Centers closed the first half with a juggling interception at his 25 and made a long return on the final play.
"He's special," Thomas said of Centers.
Santa Margarita tied the score at 17 in the third quarter on a 5-yard TD run by Jake Ebach from the wildcat formation, but the Friars responded when they needed to Thursday.
A 48-yard kickoff return to midfield by Centers sparked a short scoring drive that Fuentes capped with a 1-yard TD run for a 24-17 lead with 4:15 left in the third.
Santa Margarita cut Servite's lead to 24-20 on a 33-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter by Boccuzzi but was hurt by not being able to capitalize after intercepting McKibbin with 9:52 left.
About three minutes later, Servite began its game-winning drive.