Familiar foe stands in front of championship berth for St. Francis football

Grant Gordon, Glendale News Press

For 11 weeks in the autumn of 2014, St. Francis High’s football team lived up to the overwhelming expectations that had resided upon its collective shoulders since well before the season had even kicked off.

But then came a fateful road trip to play La Serna.

With two key injuries and hardly their best effort to boot, the Golden Knights, the No. 1 seed in the CIF Southern Section Southeast Division, saw their undefeated season concluded by the Lancers in the quarterfinals with a 38-35 loss.

Now, the roles are very much reversed.

La Serna, the Southeast’s Division’s top seed this time around, travels to Friedman Field on Friday night to face St. Francis at 7 in a semifinal showdown.

“When I told them we’re down to the final four and we get to play the team that ended our season playing at our place, I’d say for sure, no question, they were excited,” said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds about his team’s reaction when he told the Golden Knights they’d host La Serna following Friday’s night’s 21-7 quarterfinal victory over fourth-seeded Burroughs. “They’re excited to still be playing. “That’s enough to motivate us, not that we need any more motivation being in the semifinals.”

Last season, Bonds’ bunch won the Angelus League title, while the Lancers took second in the Del Rio League. This time around, it’s St. Francis, which took third in league, that’s the underdog, while La Serna won the Del Rio League title and earned the division’s top seed. But, beyond all the storylines of role reversals and a rematch a year and a playoff round later, is the simple and most important notion that a CIF Southeast Division championship berth is at stake.

St. Francis (9-3), making its second trip to the semifinals in three seasons, would return to the CIF championship game for the first time since 1964 if it upends La Serna (10-2), which is in its sixth consecutive semifinal. On the other half of the bracket is Angelus League champion Cathedral (11-1), the No. 3 seed, hosting second-seeded La Mirada (9-3), the Suburban League titlist. Should St. Francis prevail, it would be on the road regardless of its opponent.

“We try not to talk about it,” said Lancers Coach Andy George of last season’s game against St. Francis. “No matter what happened last year, we expect it to be a great game and we know that’s a good program.”

George, a former assistant who took over the program just before the season opener following the dismissal of longtime coach Margarito Beltran, has the Lancers riding a seven-game winning streak into Friday. Every victory in that span has seen La Serna score 42 or greater points, with a 49-21 win over Paramount in the first round of the playoffs and a 68-42 win against Harvard-Westlake in the quarterfinals.

In the win over Harvard-Westlake, La Serna running back Anthony Garcia had 326 yards rushing in 23 carries for five touchdowns, while running back Brandon Jimenez also had three touchdowns and better than 100 yards rushing. Quarterback Jonathan Ceballos, also a rushing threat, had 113 yards on seven-of-14 passing for one touchdown.

“We’ve had some very good success running the ball,” George said. “We try to keep it as balanced as we can.”

While the head coach might be different, the offensive scheme synonymous with the Lancers remains and that’s the wing-T offense, run primarily out of the shotgun, which features lots of shifting, lots of misdirection and lots of confusion.

“Basically a nightmare to prepare for in two or three days,” Bonds said. “We can simulate it as best as we can, but as best as we can do it, it will pale in comparison to what we’ll see on Friday night.”

It was largely the St. Francis defense’s inability to contain the Lancers offense in the first half of last season’s quarterfinal that led to the defeat. La Serna rattled off 31 first-half points before St. Francis made adjustments, but the Lancers rallied for a game-winning fourth-quarter touchdown. If anything was gained in the loss, it was a better understanding of keeping things simple.

More than anything, the largest key to containing the Lancers’ offense will be fundamental tackling and being disciplined. “If you break it down to those two things, it’s pretty right on,” Bonds said.

It’s a message that’s been conveyed to the Golden Knights. “Fundamentals really is everything for us now,” said junior linebacker Maxx Jakeway, who leads St. Francis with 101 tackles. “Everybody has to do their job right now, stay sound.”

Offensively, quarterback Miles Bryant (1,756 yards passing, 16 touchdowns) has been consistent for St. Francis, receiver Jasher Foster (nine total touchdowns) has been a gamebreaker and running back Areg Nazarian (808 yards rushing, seven touchdowns) has returned from injury to lead the way. But the Golden Knights defense has very much been the catalyst.

“I know they have a very good defense. I think it’s gonna be a physical contest,” George said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to still move the ball offensively, but I think it’s gonna be an uphill battle.”

It’s been led by defensive end Sean Davitt (21 sacks), who had a monstrous game against Burroughs, tallying 12 tackles and six sacks. The Golden Knights, who also feature defensive lineman Buster Roebuck and cornerback Jacob De la Hoya, have held all five of their opponents during their current five-game winning streak to 19 points or less, including a first-round 21-19 win over Warren and the second-round 21-7 victory against Burroughs.

“The coaches really prepare us for what the teams are going to do and get us ready,” Jakeway said. “We’ve just been playing together and executing.”

The teams have just one common opponent in Harvard-Westlake, with vastly different outcomes. While La Serna rumbled past the Wolverines last week, St. Francis lost on a Hail Mary, 27-21, on Oct. 15. The loss to the Wolverines was the last in a three-game losing streak for St. Francis that saw a deflating 34-0 nonleague setback against Calabasas, followed by heartbreaking league losses to Salesian in double-overtime and Harvard-Westlake on the last play.

Now, the Golden Knights find themselves waking up for practice on Thanksgiving Day with a berth in the CIF championship on the line the day after.

“The kids are excited,” George said. “And it’s always nice to be practicing the week of Thanksgiving.”

Bonds, who has already fielded plenty of calls and emails from well-wishing alumni and expects a packed Friedman Field, knows the holiday weekend crowd will be huge and the atmosphere electric with the stakes so high. 
 

St. Francis vs La Serna – Semifinal playoff game notes

La Serna (10-2)
at
St. Francis (9-3)

Facts: Semifinal game for the CIF Southeast Division championship. St. Francis finished in third place in the Angelus League. La Serna won the Del Rio League championship and is the #1 Southeast seed.

Last week: St. Francis defeated Burroughs 21-7 and La Serna defeated Harvard Westlake 68-42.

Friday Knight lights: Kick off at St. Francis is at 7:00 pm.

In the polls: St. Francis is ranked 6th and La Serna is ranked 1st in the CIF Southeast Division poll.

Did you know: La Serna’s nickname is the Lancers and their colors are crimson, gold and white.

News to note: This is the second meeting between the schools. La Serna beat St. Francis in the 2014 quarterfinals 38-35.

On the web: Watch this and every home game live on the St. Francis web site (sfhs.net).

Semifinal return: This is the second time in three years that the Golden Knights have advanced to the CIF semis. This is the sixth straight trip for La Serna.

Come loud: Let’s pack Friedman Field as the Golden Knights look to advance to the CIF championship game.

Angelus League action: Two teams from from the Angelus League (Cathedral and St. Francis) will compete in the semifinal games.

Coin flip: If the Golden Knights advance to the finals, they will travel to either La Mirada or Cathedral.

Coach Bonds says: “We knew Burroughs would be a tough and well coached team. I am happy for our guys, they have continued to fight and kept working hard to get better. Not a lot of folks expected us to be where we are and we look forward to playing an excellent (#1 seed) La Serna at our place on Thanksgiving weekend.”

Team quote of the week: “The best do ordinary things better than everyone else.” – Chuck Noll

Captains: Each week Coach Bonds selects an additional captain to represent the team. To date, the honorary captains have been: Sean Davitt, Jasher Foster, Buster Roebuck, Josh Milner, Michael Calmette, Jacob De La Hoya, Tre Polamalu, Will Huston, Max Burcher, Kyle Larsen Tyler Valdez, Nick Bravo, Michael Guida, Ryan Delucia and Jerry Calderon.

Players of the week: The players of the week for the game against Burroughs are:

Offense: Jasher Foster
Defense: Sean Davitt
Special Teams: Blake Howard
Practice Player: Greg Dulcich
3rd Down: Jacob De La Hoya
Will To Win: Sean Davitt

This week in Angelus League:

La Mirada at Cathedral

Angleus League in the polls: Three of the top ten teams in the CIF Southeast Division poll come from the Angelus League including Cathedral (4), St. Francis (6) and Harvard Westlake (9).

CIF Southeast bracket:

#1 La Serna at St. Francis

# 2 La Mirada at #3 Cathedral

Next week: The winner will play La Mirada or Cathedral.

Follow us: Stay connected with St. Francis Football @SFGOLDENKNIGHTS or sfgoldenknightfootball.wordpress.com

By the numbers:

2: Number of Angelus League teams remaining in the playoffs.

8: Eight consecutive trips to the playoffs for the Golden Knights.

3: Third straight season in which St. Francis has advanced to the quarterfinals.

6: Sacks for Sean Davitt vs Burroughs.

46: Sacks for the Golden Knights this season.

7:00: Kick off time at St. Francis.

Burroughs, St. Francis football collide in CIF quarterfinals

Grant Gordon, Glendale News Press

It’s been more than half a decade since the Burroughs High and St. Francis football teams lined up across from each other.

An annual nonleague meeting for nearly a decade, the Golden Knights and Indians never had as much riding on a game as the teams will come Friday at Friedman Field at 7.

At stake is a trip to the CIF Southern Section Southeast Division semifinals, as the fourth-seeded Indians (10-1) travel to take on the Golden Knights (8-3).

“It’s a rivarly-type game,” said Indians Coach Keith Knoop, whose team won the Pacific League title before beating Norwalk, 16-9, for the program’s first postseason win since 2010. “They’re close to us, just over there in La Cañada.

St. Francis, which finished third in the Angelus League, opened up the postseason on the road, defeating Warren, 21-19, to make its third consecutive quarterfinal appearance.

From 2002 through 2009, the Golden Knights and Indians played every season, with St. Francis emerging with a win all eight times, though four games were decided by seven points or less, including a span between 2005-07 when Burroughs lost by three, three and seven points, respectively. Alas, that was a while ago, and all that remains the same is the coaches who have maintained the programs with consistent success.

“The familiarity is that coach Knoop is still there and I’m still here at St. Francis and we have the same coaching staff, primarily,” Golden Knights Coach Jim Bonds said. “As for the players, there’s not really any familiarity. It’s pretty much starting fresh.”

But at this point of the season, nobody’s all that fresh.

And the biggest question going into the game is the health of Burroughs running back Chance Bell, who suffered a leg injury on the first play of Friday’s first-round win over Norwalk.

“Right now, he’s out,” Knoop said Monday evening.

Bell, a reigning All-Area pick, has been phenomenal in his junior season, carrying 178 times for 1,378 yards with 23 touchdowns. He’s rushed for better than 100 yards in nine of 11 games, the only exceptions coming against Norwalk and two games prior against Crescenta Valley, as he was injured in both contests.

“We’re gonna prepare like he’s play ready and he’s gonna play,” Bonds said. “Hopefully he does. He’s dynamic and he’s a real threat.

“It’s definitely more challenging, but that’s what you should see in the playoffs.”

In contrast, St. Francis just recently welcomed back its All-Area running back, as Areg Nazarian (150 carries for 759 yards and six touchdowns) returned to the lineup in the regular season finale against La Salle and truly returned to form with 111 yards rushing in 23 carries against Warren.

“He makes big plays and it takes a lot of pressure off me,” said St. Francis quarterback Miles Bryant, who’s completed 116 of 179 passes (64%) for 1,571 yards and 14 touchdowns passes, while adding four scores on the ground. “Having him back is huge.”

One similarity between the teams is at quarterback, as neither Bryant nor Burroughs’ Steven Hubbell was a starter last season.

Bryant backed up Jeremiah Martin all season before Martin went down in the first round of the playoffs. Thus, on Friday, Bryant will return to the quarterfinals 364 days to the date he made his starting debut, playing admirably in a loss that ended St. Francis’ 2014 season against La Serna. He completed 12 of 17 passes for 267 yards with four touchdowns to one interception.

“I think I’m a lot more mature and I think I’m a lot better player than I was in 2014,” Bryant said. “But my main goal is to help the team win and it’d be great to get to the next round.”

Hubbell did not play all of the 2014 season, electing to concentrate on basketball. He’s made a triumphant return to the tune of 1,696 yards passing (125 completions in 189 attempts for a 66 completion percentage) for 27 touchdown passes along with six rushing scores.

Hubbell’s aware there’s a bit more pressure on his shoulders in Bell’s absence, but believes others, such as receivers Erick Hernandez (32 catches fro 511 yards and 13 touchdowns) and Cade Boreland (32 catches for 405 yards and four touchdowns) and running back Ash Hawkins (252 yards rushing) will accommodate the challenge.

“It definitely changes a big part of our offense, but I think we have people that can step up,” Hubbell said.

Defense will also be at the forefront as it has all season for the Indians, who have allowed more than 20 points just three times.

“We’ve got to continue to play great defense,” Knoop said. “They’re definitely a lot more dynamic on offense than a lot of teams we’ve seen because they can run and pass. They have a lot of options on offense like we do.”

Knoop’s defense, led by the likes of Evan Gurley (59 tackles, 10 sacks) and Jaret Wrobel (45 tackles, five interceptions), is allowed just 15 points per game.

St. Francis’ defense has been comparatively stingy to the tune of 20 points per game against somewhat loftier competition; at least in league play (all three Angelus League representatives are still alive in the tournament). The Golden Knights have been keyed by Maxx Jakeway (101 tackles) and Sean Davitt (61 tackles, 16 sacks).

The one common opponent the teams have is Calabasas, which is the top seed in the Western Division. Burroughs opened the season with a loss to the Coyotes, 45-25, while St. Francis suffered its worst loss in years against Calabasas, 34-0. Since its loss, the Indians haven’t suffered defeat again, running off 10 straight victories.

“We definitely improved after week one,” Hubbell. “We definitely have a little more swagger. We just want to keep the momentum going and hopefully have another game to play next week.”

St. Francis went the other way, struggling to a three-game losing streak before defeating Cathedral to keep its season alive and start a current four-game winning streak.

“I think we knew that one win could turn that corner and I think that’s what we saw against Cathedral and we realized we could beat anybody on any given night,” Bonds said.

The winner of Friday’s showdown will advance to the semifinals to play top-seeded La Serna (9-2) or Harvard-Westlake (8-3), which shared the Angelus League title and defeated St. Francis on a Hail Mary. On the other side of the bracket, third-seeded Cathedral (10-1), the other half of the Angelus League co-champions, takes on Downey (7-4), last season’s runner-up, in a quarterfinal rematch from a season prior. And, finally, second-seed La Mirada (8-3) travels to play Dominguez (8-3), which shared the San Gabriel Valley League title with Warren and Downey and defeated Burbank in the first round. For now, however, all that matters is Friday at Friedman Field.

Said Knoop: “I’m hoping it’s going to be an epic game.”

St. Francis vs Burroughs – quarterfinal playoff game notes

Burroughs (10-1)
at
St. Francis (8-3)

Facts: Quarterfinal game for the CIF Southeast Division championship. St. Francis finished in third place in the Angelus League. Burroughs won the Pacific League championship and is the #4 Southeast seed.

Friday Knight lights: Kick off at St. Francis is at 7:00 pm.

In the polls: St. Francis is ranked 6th and Burroughs is ranked 5th in the CIF Southeast Division poll.

Did you know: Burroughs nickname is the Indians and their colors are red and white.

News to note: This is the first meeting between the schools since 2009. St. Francis won the last meeting 35-20.

On the web: Watch this and every home game live on the St. Francis web site (sfhs.net).

Come loud: Let’s pack Friedman Field as the Golden Knights look to advance to the semi-finals.

Angelus League action: Three teams from from the Angelus League (Cathedral, Harvard Westlake and St. Francis) will compete in the quarterfinal games.

Coin flip: If the Golden Knights advance to round three, they will host the game against either La Serna or Harvard Westlake.

Coach Bonds says: “From where we were about four or five weeks ago to now, it feels like we’re coming together at the right time. Any time you win on the road in the playoffs, it’s big. We are excited about playing at home and look forward to the challenge of playing Burroughs.”

Team quote of the week: “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly your are doing the impossible.” – Francis of Assisi

Captains: Each week Coach Bonds selects an additional captain to represent the team. To date, the honorary captains have been: Sean Davitt, Jasher Foster, Buster Roebuck, Josh Milner, Michael Calmette, Jacob De La Hoya, Tre Polamalu, Will Huston, Max Burcher, Kyle Larsen Tyler Valdez, Nick Bravo and Michael Guida.

Players of the week: The players of the week for the game against Warren are:

Offense: Cade Mockary, Josh Milner, Michael Guida, Matt Nixon, Matt Barriga
Defense: Maxx Jakeway
Special Teams: Michael Calmette
Practice Player: Matt Cristi
3rd Down: Nick Flores, Daniel Scott
Will To Win: Miles Bryant, Areg Nazarian

This week in Angelus League:

Cathedral at Downey

La Serna at Harvard Westlake

Angleus League in the polls: Three of the top ten teams in the CIF Southeast Division poll come from the Angelus League including Cathedral (4), St. Francis (6) and Harvard Westlake (9).

CIF Southeast bracket:

#1 La Serna at Harvard Westlake

#4 Burroughs at St. Francis

#3 Cathedral at Downey

#2 La Mirada at Dominguez

Next week: The winner will play La Serna or Harvard Westlake

Follow us: Stay connected with St. Francis Football @SFGOLDENKNIGHTS or sfgoldenknightfootball.wordpress.com

By the numbers:

3: Number of Angelus League teams remaining in the playoffs.

8: Eight consecutive trips to the playoffs for the Golden Knights.

3: Third straight season in which St. Francis has advanced to the quarterfinals.

39: Sacks for the Golden Knights this season.

193: Season high rushing yards vs Warren.

7:00: Kick off time at St. Francis.