In recent years, the St. Francis High football team has frequently looked to the Pacific League to fill its nonleague schedule, sometimes playing as many as three opponents from the league in one season.
But with annual clashes with Burroughs and Crescenta Valley falling by the wayside, the Golden Knights have looked to another nearby league to fill the void in the Monrovia Wildcats of the Rio Hondo League, who will visit Friedman Field at 7 p.m. Friday.
"With their success recently, [plus] it's a local game that replaces a couple of Pacific League foes and it's not too bad a travel, we thought it would be a good matchup," St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said of Monrovia, which won the CIF Southern Section Mid-Valley Division championship last season and is currently ranked third in the division. "We know they're athletic, too, so it helps us prepare for some of the teams that we play in [the Mission] League."
The Golden Knights have attempted to construct a rigorous set of challenges in their early games to ramp up for the start of league play and have passed most of them in going 3-1 with their only loss coming to Southeast Division No.1-ranked La Mirada on Sept. 14.
St. Francis, ranked fourth in the Western Division, was in danger of losing two in a row last week when it trailed West Ranch late, but the Golden Knights rallied for a 38-30 win on the road.
"For us to come back the way we did, it showed me a lot," Bonds said. "I like the fight in our team, I like their attitude and there's no quit. We might not be the most talented team on the field every night, but I know they're not going to quit, so that's a nice thing to have in your back pocket as a coach."
Monrovia showed the same competitive fire in its last game, scoring 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, but still lost to South Hills, 30-27, to fall to 2-2
"They're a very good football team," Bonds said of Monrovia, which also lost to Ayala, 16-15, in its season opener on Aug. 31. "They're 2-2, but they've lost to two very good teams in South Hills and Ayala. They're athletic, it should be a nice community game for us."
The Golden Knights have benefited from the strong play of quarterback Jared Lebowitz, who has topped the 200-yard mark passing in his past three games, including a season-best 304 against West Ranch. Daniel Kawamura has emerged as the team's top back with 359 yards on the season although he has been held under 100 in each of the past two games.
Defensive back Joey Velladao continues to lead the team in tackles with 48 after notching another 10 last week.
The Wildcats' offense is run by quarterback Blake Heyworth, a St. Francis transfer who has passed for 843 yards with eight touchdowns, but also five interceptions. The running game is powered by Ge Vontray Ainsworth and Darione Jones, who are averaging 8.68 and 5.37 yards per carry, respectively.
Crescenta Valley vs. Pasadena (at Moyse Field), 7 p.m. Friday: After a crushing 36-0 loss at Muir to open Pacific League play last week, the Falcons are back on their home field for another league tilt against another Pasadena-area squad brimming with speed and athleticism.
The Bulldogs (1-3) have gone 1-1 without star quarterback Brandon Cox to a broken foot in a loss to Cathedral on Sept. 7, with their first win coming in the league opener against Glendale, 35-0, on Friday.
The initial prognosis had Cox missing three to six weeks, which allows for the possibility of Cox returning in time for Friday's game, a proposition that has muddied the Falcons' preparation considerably.
"Three weeks is Friday, so we're in that predicament of how much do we get ready for him," Crescenta Valley Coach Paul Schilling said. "We don't know if he's going to play — he's a phenomenal player — but they're a good team anyway, they like to run the ball and they have some great athletes."
If Cox remains sidelined, the Falcons (2-2) will likely see Caleb Devine making his second career varsity start, but the Bulldogs certainly don't need to lean on the passing game to be successful. Torus Stepney rushed for 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns and Kylon Fleming broke a 79-yard touchdown run against the Nitros.
The Falcons must get their offense back on track with either Ben Rees or Joe Torres, both of whom tried their hand at quarterback against Muir. If Crescenta Valley can get behind its rugged offensive line and grind out possessions with running back William Wang, it may be able to counter Pasadena's speed.
Hoover at Muir, 7 p.m. Friday: After a solid 2-1 start to the season, the Tornadoes experienced a rude welcoming into Pacific League play with a 48-7 loss to Burbank on Thursday to fall to 2-2 with their 15th straight league loss.
They also lost their starting quarterback, Brendon Kerr, to a knee injury in the first half and he did not return. It's unknown whether he'll play on Friday.
Muir (1-3) struck quickly on many of its scoring plays against the Falcons, hitting paydirt on the first play of four different drives and scoring on plays of 96 and 54 yards. If the Tornadoes are unable to shore up the holes in their defensive line and improve open-field tackling, they could be in for another long night after giving up four running plays of 30 yards or more, including scoring plays of 52 and 48 yards.