LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — A self-proclaimed second-half team, the St. Francis High football team was assured it would need to be so once again going into the second half Friday night against Chaminade down by 25 points.
The Golden Knights dug their heels in against the powerful Eagles, ranked second in the CIF Southern Section Western Division, in the third quarter, where they held Chaminade to just one touchdown while getting points of their own on a pair of drives to pull within three scores going into the final period of the Mission League contest at Friedman Field.
But Chaminade running back Terrell Newby’s 81-yard touchdown run just 38 seconds into the fourth quarter would be the final points of the game, as the Golden Knights’ latest comeback attempt fell well short in a 42-14 loss.
“We’ve done it before, at Harvard-Westlake we came back with seven minutes left in the fourth, we scored 20-something unanswered points. So our belief never faltered, it’s just the execution part that we stumbled over a little bit in the first half,” said Golden Knights quarterback Jared Lebowitz, who completed 15 of 33 passes for 184 yards, with 137 coming after halftime. “But we’ve always been a second-half team. We thought we would come out swinging.”
Actually, it was the Eagles (8-1, 4-0 in league) who came out swinging to start the second half, mounting a seven-play, 80-yard drive that took less than two minutes, with 70 of the yards coming from the rifle arm of junior quarterback Brad Kaaya (22 of 28 passing for 310 yards and four touchdowns). Kian Samadian hauled in a pass over the middle from Kaaya on third and six from the Knights’ 39-yard line with a quartet of defenders seemingly ready to close in on him near the 25, but he turned on the jets to reach the end zone untouched for a 35-3 lead at the 10:09 mark.
“A couple years ago out at their place we were down, 25-7, and we found a way to scratch back and get a ‘W’ so we never thought we were out of the game,” St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said.
Indeed, the Golden Knights (3-6, 0-4) went right to work on a drive sparked by Lebowitz, who scrambled his way out of a sack and found Evan Crawford down the sideline for a 22-yard gain on third and 14 from the St. Francis 19. St. Francis would stall at the Chaminade 34, but Mark Verso converted on a 51-yard field goal to pull the team within 35-6 with 7:47 to play in the third.
The Golden Knights got the ball right back on their own 45 on a successfully recovered onside kick and found their first surge of momentum when Lebowitz completed a 12-yard pass to Crawford, followed by a 26-yard hookup with Tommy Scheper (120 yards receiving on six catches) to put the ball on the two-yard line. Zachery Washington ran in the touchdown two plays later and Lebowitz hit John Carroll for two points on the conversion to make it a three-score game with 3:23 left in the third.
“I just give our guys a lot of credit for being in that situation and playing the way they did in the second half,” Bonds said. “They could have folded up the tent, but they didn’t.”
Another attempt at an onside kick recovery was unsuccessful, but St. Francis’ defense held fast for a three-and-out. Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, their next possession ended in the same fashion and Chaminade’s next drive saw Newby, who finished with 143 yards rushing and two touchdowns in 12 carries, put the game away for good.
“That’s a good football team,” Bonds said. “Chaminade is every bit as athletic as [third-ranked Gardena] Serra and they’re well-coached. We had our hands full.”
Chaminade’s speed ate up the Golden Knights on both sides of the ball in the first half. Chaminade’s no-huddle offense scored on drives of seven plays, five plays and four plays twice before halftime and the Eagles kept relentless pressure on Lebowitz with five sacks and an interception while holding the Knights’ tailbacks to 74 rushing yards on the night, led by Daniel Kawamura’s 65 in 22 carries.
“They’re not huddling on offense and trying to get us gassed on defense and throwing swings to the right and swings to the left so they get your D-line tired by having to run side to side,” Bonds said. “And blocking [defensive ends Michael Ashley] and [Cory Harris], who look like tailbacks coming off the edge, was tough for us. In the second half, we kept the tight end in and our running back helped the other tackle and it seemed to be a little more effective, but they were still able to get pressure on us.
“We never come into a game thinking we don’t have a chance,” Bonds said. “When you find yourself down, 28-3, at halftime, you’re just trying to build on the positives and I thought our guys played their hearts out in the second half.”