LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — As the St. Francis High football team struggled through a winless Mission League campaign while facing some of the top programs in the CIF Southern Section, there was no doubt some frustration built up by the Golden Knights.
St. Paul bore the brunt of that bottled-up aggression in Friday night’s league and regular season finale at Friedman Field, as St. Francis blitzed the Swordsmen from the opening bell to end a trying season on a triumphant note with a 34-14 win.
Senior quarterback Jared Lebowitz led the charge, passing for five touchdowns on the night, while completing 15 of 21 passes for 191 yards.
“It’s great to see our seniors end this way on a positive note,” said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds, whose team (4-6, 1-4 in league) will miss the playoffs for just the second time in his 12-year head coaching tenure. “I think we played inspired football from the start tonight. It kind of makes you scratch your head and say, ‘Man, what if we could have put it all together for a couple of those games and won a couple of those close ones we might have a shot to [still] be playing.’”
St. Francis scored on its first four drives, including three times in the first quarter, while manhandling the Swordsmen (1-9, 0-5) at the line of scrimmage and allowing just 39 first-quarter yards.
A botched St. Paul attempt to convert on a fake punt on fourth and 14 deep in its own territory on the game’s opening drive gave St. Francis the ball for the first time on St. Paul’s five-yard line, where Lebowitz found John Carroll over the middle for the game’s first score with 8:52 left in the first quarter.
“I was scratching my had when they faked the punt on fourth and 29 on the first drive of the game,” Bonds said. “I don’t know if that’s what they meant to do, but we were happy to take that short field.”
After forcing St. Paul to punt after a three-and-out on its next possession, St. Francis drove 64 yards in five plays, ending with Lebowitz finding Matthew Gonzalez in the right corner of the end zone from nine yards out for a two-touchdown lead with 5:28 left in the first.
St. Paul finally got its first first down of the game on its next drive, but several plays later, an interception of St. Paul quarterback Jeffrey Maier set the Golden Knights up at the St. Paul 21 with 2:19 left in the opening quarter. Lebowitz made it 20-0 with a 25-yard floater to Joe Mudie and gave the Golden Knights a four-score lead going into halftime with a 12-yard pass to Nathan Clark to complete a 60-yard drive with 6:35 left in the second quarter.
“Defensively we shut them down in the first half,” Bonds said. “Offensively, we were moving the ball at will. We came out in some no-huddle stuff that I don’t think they were ready for and I thought Jared was sharp and we were making plays.”