First published in the Nov. 26 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
The St. Francis High School football team was one win away from a chance to play for a CIF-Southern Section championship for the second year in a row. Standing in the way was Aquinas High of San Bernardino, which the Golden Knights played host to in a Division V semifinal tilt last Friday.
St. Francis had to rely on a huge fourth-quarter effort from its running game to secure the 52-35 victory over the visiting Falcons on Friedman Field at Jim Bonds Stadium.
“[Aquinas] is a great team. I think they are one of the best-coached teams in the CIF,” St. Francis coach Dean Herrington said. “We knew it was going to be a four-quarter game.”
St. Francis, the No. 9 seed, will now play for a CIF championship this Saturday against host Etiwanda in Rancho Cucamonga, the division’s No. 2 seed. It’s a return to the title game for St. Francis (10-3), which hosted the Division IV title game last season but lost in a lopsided affair.
“It’s great to be back in the finals,” Herrington said. “We got there last year and had to play Long Beach Poly. This year we’re playing Etiwanda, another really athletic team.”
Against Aquinas (10-3), Golden Knight running back Devyn Turner had 137 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries. These are solid numbers for a semifinal against the No. 4 seed in the division. However, that was what the senior and his offensive line amassed in the fourth quarter alone as the hosts ran to stay ahead of the visitors.
“It was a dogfight,” Turner said. “They came out hard. We came out harder. Whoever wanted it more in the fourth quarter, that was it.”
For the entire game, Turner finished with 24 carries for 235 yards and five touchdowns in a stellar effort. The senior also had three receptions for 30 yards.
“We have a special player in Devyn Turner, who is getting better and better every week,” Herrington said.
The Golden Knights had been up 17 earlier in the contest, but by the start of the fourth quarter it was down to 31-28.
But the Golden Knights then answered with a 62-yard drive, ending with a four-yard rushing touchdown by Turner, who took a pitch back from quarterback Jack Jacobs and burst through the line into the end zone with 9:52 to go.
The ensuing Aquinas possession came to a halt on the hosts’ side of the field when sophomore defensive back James Lawyer intercepted his second pass of the evening from Falcon quarterback Dre Robles.
On the first play following the turnover, Turner carried the ball for 40 yards, patiently finding space before taking off on the long run. On the next play Turner found paydirt on a 21-yard run and the lead swelled to 45-28 with 5:39 to go.
The Falcons then mounted a 93-yard drive ending with a one-yard touchdown run by Robles with 2:56 remaining. The visitors tried for an on-sides kick, but Golden Knight John Sanders recovered it. St. Francis then cemented the win as Turner went in from 22 yards out with 49 seconds to go for his fifth touchdown.
“We knew they weren’t going to lay down easy when we were up at half. We took advantage of that and just went hard,” Turner said.
Jacobs completed 13 of 19 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. The senior also rushed five times for 31 yards.
Meanwhile, Sanders threw two passes off trick plays, going one of two, with the completion going 52 yards to Drushun Phillips for a touchdown.
Antonio Merlos had a team-high five catches for 45 yards while Jett McCullough had three grabs for 48 yards. John Calmette and Preston Jernegan each had a catch for seven and 22 yards respectively.
At the start, the St. Francis defense forced a three-and-out. The offense then covered 55 yards in two plays to get on the board first with a 48-yard touchdown run by Turner 3:25 into the contest.
Jacobs got hit in the pocket and fumbled the ball on the next Golden Knights possession. The Falcons got points off of the turnover two plays later with a four-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7, which was the score after one quarter.
In the second, one play after an unsuccessful fake field goal by the hosts, Lawyer got an interception to give the Golden Knights the ball back. Soon after, St. Francis successfully kicked a field goal by Clint Geryak from 26 yards out to give the hosts a lead they would never relinquish.
St. Francis scored again 1:19 before halftime on a three-yard touchdown run by Turner, and it was 17-7 at the break.
The teams combined for 35 points in a high-scoring third quarter. Two plays after Golden Knight Ryan Doerfler forced and recovered a fumble at the Falcons’ 15-yard line, Jacobs connected with Merlos for an 11-yard touchdown throw.
Aquinas then scored a touchdown after an 88-yard drive to answer.
The next Golden Knights possession was a scoring drive that lasted just two plays, culminating with a touchdown after Jacobs handed off to Sanders, who threw a 52-yard scoring pass to Phillips.
Aquinas then scored another touchdown on an 80-yard drive.
The ensuing kickoff was fumbled away by the Golden Knights and, two plays later, the visitors took advantage of a short field with a touchdown pass that covered 16 yards and pulled the Falcons to within a field goal entering the fourth quarter.