First published in the Nov. 17 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
St. Francis High School likely collected its biggest win of the season – and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time – when the Golden Knights upset top-seeded Villa Park, 35-28, in the CIF Southern Section football playoffs and secured a victory last Friday night on Friedman Field at Jim Bonds Stadium.
The win lifts the Angelus League champion Golden Knights (9-3 record) into the Division 5 semifinals where they will host Aquinas High of San Bernardino (10-2 record).
“This is a great win,” St. Francis coach Dean Herrington said. “Any time in the playoffs is a great win and [Villa Park] is the No. 1 seed in the division, too.”
On the first snap of the contest, St. Francis quarterback Jack Jacobs faked a handoff to a running back, then faked a reverse coming right to left before lofting a pass down the right sideline to a wide-open Hank Foley, who went 67 yards for the touchdown. The PAT kick followed and the hosts led 7-0 just 15 seconds into the game.
“We knew we were running that play off the bat,” Jacobs said. “We’re just glad it was able to set up nicely. The coaches’ plan was nice; we just had to execute.”
After Villa Park’s first possession ended with a punt after eight plays, St. Francis extended the advantage with a nine-play drive covering 81 yards, starting with a 34-yard run by Devyn Turner. It culminated with a bit of trickery: Jacobs handed the ball off to Turner, who handed the ball off on a reverse to Jett McCullough, who, while rolling to the right, threw a pass to Jacobs, who made the catch for a 14-yard touchdown. The first quarter ended with the hosts on top, 14-0.
“We knew [Villa Park] was going to come in here with a chip on their shoulder and try to knock us out early. That is why we came out here with the trick plays at the beginning,” Turner said.
Jacobs finished seven of 15 for 147 yards and two touchdown passes. Along with the touchdown catch, the senior also ran for 27 yards on seven carries.
Turner had a huge game, rushing for 212 yards in 22 carries with two touchdowns. The senior had 114 of his yards in the fourth quarter as St. Francis controlled the ball.
Villa Park (6-6) featured a ground attack on offense and was not built to play from behind. Carter Christie led the way with 19 carries for 141 yards for the visiting Spartans.
“We knew they could run the ball. We didn’t want them to just waste the clock the whole time. Getting the lead early was huge,” Herrington said.
Villa Park got on the scoreboard early in the second quarter with a touchdown, but St. Francis answered back with a nine-play drive. It ended when Turner ran left for a 23-yard touchdown on fourth down and three yards to go, increasing the Knights’ lead to 21-7 at halftime.
Villa Park came out of the break and cut the deficit in half with a seven-play drive, all of which were runs, ending with a one-yard quarterback sneak by Nate Lewis.
St. Francis answered again with an eight-play, 58-yard drive. It ended with a 21-yard scoring pass to McCullough, who finished with three grabs for 40 yards. The score was 28-14 after three quarters.
The teams exchanged touchdowns to start the final quarter. Villa Park struck first with a two-yard rushing touchdown by Carson Ridge 44 seconds in.
St. Francis extended the advantage to 35-21 with a seven-play drive, ending with a 17-yard rushing touchdown by Turner.
The Golden Knight defense then forced the only turnover of the contest with 5:48 to go when Preston Jernegan intercepted a Lewis pass off of play action.
The ensuing Golden Knight drive was a disaster, starting at their own 30 but ending at their own two-yard line.
The punt from the end zone set up the visitors with a short field at the St. Francis 37-yard line. Soon after, Villa Park scored with a five-yard touchdown pass to pull within 35-28 with 2:34 to go.
From there, St. Francis leaned heavily on its offensive line and the running of Turner to bleed out the rest of the clock. The game ended with the ball at the Villa Park one-yard line as St. Francis chose to kneel down and run out the clock rather than put more points on the board.
“It just feels great to have a hard-fought team victory,” Jacobs said. “I’m glad my guys were able to come together and finish this one.”