Having passed its stiffest test of the young season, the Laguna Beach High football team is one victory away from completing its nonleague schedule unbeaten when it hosts Pioneer of Whittier at 7 p.m. Friday at Guyer Field.
The Breakers (3-0-1) survived an assault through the air Sept. 21 when St. Margaret's came into town. They were able to shut down the long pass in favor of giving up the short version and came away with a 31-17 victory over a Tartans team that entered the game undefeated and ranked fifth in the CIF Southern Section East Valley Division.
Laguna never trailed in the game, but the Tartans (3-1) stayed in contention until late in the fourth quarter.
Robbie McInerny started the scoring off with a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter. St. Margaret's answered with a field goal of its own, but Breakers quarterback Larry Stewart and receiver Robert Clemons hooked up on a 56-yard touchdown pass that put the Breakers in front to stay. In the first minute of the second quarter, Clemons scored on a 79-yard punt return to put the score at 17-3.
Stewart threw two more touchdown passes in the second half. His first was a 14-yard pass to Clemons on Laguna's first possession of the half. The second, a 12-yard pass to Drake Martinez in the fourth quarter, came on a third-down play with just over a minute left to play.
Laguna's final scoring drive was set up by a huge stop by McInerny, who intercepted a pass at the Laguna 48-yard line and returned it 41 yards to the St. Margaret's 11. Three plays later, Stewart hit Martinez to put the game away.
In the final minute, Nathan Lancaster came up with an interception, the third pick by the Breakers' defense in the fourth quarter. Adam Farsheed started the quarter with an interception at the Laguna 29 that thwarted a Tartans drive with the score at 24-17.
"I think — no, I know — that we are a better defensive team than we were last year," Laguna Coach Mike Churchill said. "St. Margaret's is really good. They came in here to make a statement and their kids played hard all game. So did ours. They had been killing teams this year with the long pass but our kids said that that wasn't going to happen to them. They peppered us with the short pass, but we didn't give up anything long. I thought our defense did a real good job in that regard."
Pioneer has lost three straight games after wining its season opener. The Titans are coming off a last-minute, 20-14, loss to Montebello, and all three of their losses have been by seven points or less.
The Titans have rushed for 647 yards in four games, led by senior fullback Angel Marquez with 395 yards and five touchdowns.
"They line up right and execute correctly," Churchill said of the Titans. "They are serious at running the football and run off-tackle a lot. It could be a fast game."
Laguna and Pioneer have a common opponent this year in John Glenn. The Titans defeated the Eagles, 35-28, in their season opener Aug. 31, and the Breakers scored a 74-19 win two weeks ago.