LA CAÑADA — Through past postseasons, the St. Francis High boys' soccer team has seemingly proved there is no comeback too huge to overcome and no amount of magic too confounding to believe.
But upon Wednesday afternoon’s CIF Southern Section Division I wild-card match, a three-goal halftime deficit certainly looked like the end of any St. Francis dramatics. It proved to be just the beginning.
The Golden Knights rattled off four straight second-half goals only to allow visiting Canyon Springs to score the equalizer with minutes to play, forcing the game into overtime and eventually penalty kicks, in which St. Francis prevailed, advancing into Friday’s first round with a 5-5 (4-3) triumph at Friedman Field.
“Even down, 4-1, I never thought for a single second we wouldn’t win this game,” said senior Brookes Treidler, who scored the game-winning penalty kick and scored in the second half’s first minute to key the comeback. “This is a team that typically has one good half. Luckily we scored four goals in that half.”
Treidler scored the game-winner last season when the Golden Knights prevailed against Upland, 4-3, after coming back from a two-goal deficit in the first round of CIF postseason play.
St. Francis Coach Glen Appels, who has coached the program to three CIF Southern Section titles and a Southern California Regional Championship, has navigated the Golden Knights through more nailbiting victories and defeats than he could likely number, with Wednesday’s simply the latest.
“The glimmer of hope was that we created enough chances in the first half to know we had a chance,” said Appels, whose Knights (8-10-5) will now play fourth-seeded Palos Verdes (19-2-3) on the road Friday in the first round. “We have some history [with dramatic playoff games].
“We showed a lot of heart today. Things weren’t going our way and we were still able to come back.”
Canyon Springs (8-8-6) took a 2-0 lead inside the first 20 minutes before a goal by Ricky Francia, who had two, off a Grant Gonzalez assist to cut the lead in half in the 30th minute. But Canyon Springs struck for two more goals in the half’s last five minutes, including a penalty kick just before half.
But Treidler’s early second-half goal set the comeback in motion and was eventually followed by scores from Griffin O’Brien, Francia and finally a go-ahead score from freshman Alex Pidoux with six minutes to play. Less than a minute later, Canyon Springs, the fourth-place team out of the Inland Valley League, tied it.
However, St. Francis converted on its first four penalty attempts in the shootout — with Jacob Anderson, O’Brien, Frankie Veiga and Treidler converting for St. Francis — while Canyon Springs missed the net on two, the last sending the Golden Knights into a delirium and the first round.
“It was awesome. It was probably one of the best games I’ve ever played in,” Pidoux said. “It was action-packed.”
An up-tempo Canyon Springs attack had the Golden Knights’ backs against the wall after Francia’s goal off a Gonzalez assist was the only rebuttal for a four-goal first half by the Cougars. St. Francis did have at least two other good chances at goals stopped, but Golden Knights goalie Ryan Veiga, who was filling in for an ill Luca Coppola, also kept the opening half from getting any further out of hand as he stonewalled a one-on-none breakaway and made a dazzling save with a deflection and that had to hustle back to the goalline to bat away another deflection from drifting into the net.
Though the first half couldn’t have gone a lot worse for the Golden Knights, the second half’s start couldn’t have been much better.
Treidler scored off a Gonzalez cross just 40 seconds in to put the comeback wheels in motion.
Still, St. Francis stalled a bit, but the prospects of a comeback were in full force when a scrum in front of the Cougars net saw three Golden Knights shots deflected in the field before O’Brien had a shot from the right wing deflect off a defender, change trajectory and find its way into the net for a 4-3 score.
The Golden Knights’ play was ignited by the score and their passing was as crisp as it had been all game, though that was hardly the case for the game-tying goal. A Frankie Veiga throw-in in front of the goal mouth found the ground and eventually Francia found the ball, his kick tying the match with just less than nine minutes to play.
With just under six minutes to play, Anderson played a ball up to Pidoux on the left wing, where he drilled home a low shot for the go-ahead score.
But just as it looked like a visibly dejected Canyon Springs squad had been broken by four unanswered goals, it countered with a Saul Ibarra score less than a minute later to tie the game back up at 5.
“It’s one of those things in soccer where you’re most vulnerable right after you score,” Treidler said. “You’re expecting no response from a team that was up, 4-1, and just gave up four goals.
“But you just have to be ready.”
After 20 minutes of sudden death in which St. Francis outshot Canyon Springs, 4-2, nothing was settled yet.
As fate would have it, Pidoux was next in line to take a shot in the shootout, but a second Cougars player missed the net, clinching the shootout for the Golden Knights at 4-3.
“We know we can come back,” Pidoux said. “We just have that inside of us.”