DOWNEY — Momentum swirled back and forth, particularly in the second half, between the St. Francis High football team and host Warren.
But within the grasp of Sean Davitt, a Golden Knights victory came to rest.
With the offense racking up 193 yards on the ground and three rushing scores, Davitt, a defensive end, recovered an onside kick with 58 seconds remaining to seal the Golden Knights' 21-19 win over the Bears on Friday night in the CIF Southern Section Southeast Division first round.
It's the third straight season in which St. Francis has advanced to the quarterfinals and it will face Burroughs, which defeated Norwalk on Friday, at home at Friedman Field in the next round.
"I didn't honestly think it was hit hard enough that I was gonna let it go to the second line, but [teammate] Blake [Howard] jumped out and it got away, so I jumped on it," Davitt said of the recovery. "I had it; people were trying to pull at it. I kept it secure."
The Golden Knights (8-3), who took third place in the Angelus League, used 193 yards rushing in 42 carries to ultimately garner the victory against Warren (8-3), a San Gabriel Valley League tri-champion. In the process, St. Francis won its fourth consecutive game following a three-game losing skid.
"From where we were about four or five weeks ago to now, it feels like we're coming together at the right time," Golden Knights Coach Jim Bonds said. "Any time you win on the road in the playoffs, it's big."
Having All-Area running back Areg Nazarian back healthy was also big. Nazarian, who had missed three games before returning in the league finale against La Salle, had a game-high 118 yards rushing in 23 carries, while also grabbing a team-best six catches for 42 yards.
"You saw it all tonight," Bonds said. "It was really nice to have him back at full strength."
Quarterback Miles Bryant, who completed 11 of 18 passes for 108 yards, ran for two touchdowns in 12 carries for 49 yards and Tre Polomalu ran in the first score of the game from five yards out.
"It feels great," Nazarian said of the win. "Warren was a great team.
"We weren't trailing, but it was a close game. We grinded."
Leading, 14-12, late in the third quarter, St. Francis embarked on a game-winning drive for the storybooks, marching 98 yards in 22 plays.
On fourth and inches from his team's own 12, Bonds rolled the dice on the first play of the fourth quarter by going for it. Bryant came up clutch with a one-yard gain on a sneak. Bryant came up big again when he hit Daniel Scott for a nine-yard gain on third and six at the Warren 22. Three plays later, Bryant fell in to the end zone for a two-yard score and a 21-12 lead with just 1:43 to go.
Warren's offense responded in lightning fashion, though, as it marched 62 yards in five plays, culminating in a five-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jordan Yancy (17 of 20 for 211 yards) to Marquise Lowe.
Moments later, though, Davitt recovered the onside kick.
Warren had the only score of the third quarter to draw within 14-12, but the ensuing two-point attempt was tipped away.
Davitt had one of three sacks, along with Gabriel Grbavac and Maxx Jakeway, as Warren relied heavily on the run game in the first half out of its no-huddle spread, but passed more in the second half.
"They upped the tempo there in the end," Davitt said. "We were able to make some plays."
The running game was the onus for both teams from the start.
Nazarian peeled off an 18-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. It was the onset of an 11-play, 77-yard scoring drive to open the game. It culminated with a five-yard scoring run by Polomalu that was keyed by a Howard block in space.
Warren countered with a 14-play, 80-yard drive. Twelve of the plays were rushing, including a one-yard plunge by Kainoa Fuiava. However, the ensuing point-after attempt was blocked by Michael Calmette to keep the Knights ahead, 7-6, with two seconds left in the quarter. Two possessions took up the majority of the stanza.
St. Francis stalled on its following drive, but held Warren thanks in large part to a huge Davitt sack on third down.
With 15.5 seconds left, Bryant faked an option and kept it for a four-yard score to end a 12-play, 67-yard drive with a 14-6 halftime lead.
Now, it's on to face Burroughs.
"We got going early, that's what we wanted to do, fight downhill," Davitt said. "But we let them back in it. But, we were able to get the win."