LA MIRADA — A second-quarter injury to La Mirada High star running back Johnny Hills played an unexpectedly huge factor in Friday night’s nonleague game between visiting St. Francis and the Matadores.
Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, the injury forced No. 2 back Adam Carrasco to take over and the Matadores junior was well up to task.
Carrasco rushed a career-high 36 times for 246 yards and two touchdowns and the Golden Knights committed a devastating turnover late in a 28-21 loss to the CIF Southern Section Southeast Division second-ranked Matadores.
“It was pick your poison,” St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said. “They had [Hills] to toss to or [Kevin Dillman] or [Carrasco] and when their top guy went down, they were just able to plug in another guy.”
La Mirada (3-1) took the lead at 28-21 with 5:37 remaining in the fourth when Carrasco bounced off tackle right and found wide-open spaces for a 12-yard touchdown.
St. Francis (2-1) tried to answer back and marched from its 20 after the ensuing kickoff and hit La Mirada’s 43 within three plays.
On the next play, Golden Knights quarterback Jared Lebowitz (15 of 25 for 237 yards, two touchdowns and one interception) found his receiver for a 21-yard gain.
Yet, on the reception, La Mirada defender Jeovanni Gutierrez forced a strip, which was recovered by Diamond Lagmay at the 22 with 3:48 left.
St. Francis’ offense was never given a chance to make amends, as Matadores quarterback Gerry Myres (11 for 18 for 143 yards and one touchdown) handed off to Carrasco eight straight times to secure three first downs and allow La Mirada to bleed the clock.
“Credit La Mirada. They knew we were a little short-handed at linebacker and they took advantage,” Bonds said. “This is a good team and we need tough opponents like this to get us ready for league.”
La Mirada opened the second half with a 16-play, 80-yard drive that spanned eight minutes and 24 seconds and was capped by a one-yard plunge from Carrasco that propelled La Mirada ahead, 21-15.
St. Francis countered seven plays later with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Lebowitz to Matthew Gonzalez that, after a botched extra-point attempt, knotted the score at 21 with 9:08 left.
St. Francis took a 15-14 advantage into the break in a first half broken up into two halves — pre and post Johnny Hills.
Hills, who entered averaging 12.6 yards per carry, was knocked out with an ankle injury on a tackle by Jordan Lynch (eight tackles) and Joey Velladao (eight tackles) with 1:29 left in the first.
The injury occurred with the Matadores leading, 14-6.
From that point on, St. Francis outscored La Mirada, 9-0, and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a pass from Lebowitz to tight end John Carroll with 15 seconds left.
On that touchdown, St. Francis missed on a two-point conversion.
The Golden Knight also missed on a two-point try on their first possession after a 12-yard strike from Lebowitz to Joe Mudie with 3:17 in the first.
Mudie scored thanks to a great lead block from Trevor Provencio.
The Matadores initially came out on fire, scoring touchdowns on their first two drives, the first on a bubble screen from Myres to William Grisson, and the second score on a direct snap to Dillman, who sprinted for 38 yards.
“This is a tough loss because we worked hard and came back and just couldn’t finish,” said Lebowitz, who injured his shoulder in the second quarter, but only missed one drive. “These are the types of games where being close doesn’t matter.”