St. Francis' Matthew Gonzalez holds off Serra Gardena defenders in La Canada.

St. Francis' Matthew Gonzalez holds off Serra Gardena defenders in La Canada. (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer / October 18, 2012)

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — In a season thus far characterized by heartbreaking defeats, St. Francis High’s football team felt the sting of a much larger loss on Thursday night.

Against a Serra squad far bigger and faster, the Golden Knights hung tough for 24 minutes before relinquishing 28 unanswered points in the second half en route to a 42-6 Mission League loss at Friedman Field to the Cavaliers.

“You’d always rather be in the game in the end, even if it is heartbreaking,” said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds, whose team, ranked 10th in the CIF Southern Section Western Division, fell to 3-5 overall and 0-3 in league play with its fourth consecutive defeat. “I’d always rather have a chance in the end rather than get run over like we did.”

In his team’s previous four losses, the defeats came by a combined 18 points — a margin exceeded by Serra with 8:12 to go in the third quarter on a touchdown that squashed all St. Francis hopes.

Serra (6-2, 2-1 in league), ranked third in the division, clung to a 14-6 lead coming out of halftime, but wasted no time in turning the momentum for good, as the Cavaliers marched 80 yards to a 21-6 lead on the second half’s first drive. But the clincher came on St. Francis’ next drive, when quarterback Jared Lebowitz was intercepted on a screen pass by defensive lineman Inoke Raikadroka, who sprinted 53 yards untouched for a score that ultimately deflated the Golden Knights and sealed the game.

“That’s the way I saw it,” said Bonds of the opening touchdown stealing the momentum and the interception turning the game for good. “We’ve still got a chance down, 21-6. … Jared just said he never saw the guy. I think we knew with our struggles we were having offensively it was gonna be tough to overcome [a 28-6 deficit].”

And on the ensuing drive, St. Francis was dealt potentially its biggest loss, when Lebowitz, who was harassed all game to the tune of four sacks and constant pressure, went down with a left shoulder injury. Bonds said his senior quarterback, who was 12 for 21 for 133 yards (all in the first half), was questionable for Friday’s game against Chaminade and was asking to return to the game in the fourth quarter.

Offensively, St. Francis was held to just 214 yards of offense, with running back Daniel Kawamura held to 63 yards in 12 carries. In the first half, the running game was non-existent, tallying negative three yards. A pair of Mark Verso 48-yard field goals stood as the only offense for the Knights.

In the second half, an unrelenting Serra offense — it ran a vaunted no-huddle offense until the end of the game, passing twice in its final drive with a running clock going — scored on its first three offensive drives. It only came up empty on its final drive and its reserves’ first.

“They’re just so explosive on offense,” Bonds said. “I thought our defense played great in the first half.”

Quarterback Jalen Greene was 16 of 22 for 196 yards and a touchdown to running back Malik Roberson, who also ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns in 13 carries. Greene also had a rushing touchdown.

“No question,” said Bonds of Serra being the best team his Golden Knights have faced. “Combine their size and speed and it’s the best group of players we’ve seen.”

So far, all of the Golden Knights’ losses have come to teams that have all been ranked in the top five in their respective divisions.

Next week, they’ll take on top-ranked Chaminade, which has already defeated Serra.