In recent years, the St. Francis High football team has frequently looked to the Pacific League to fill its nonleague schedule, sometimes playing as many as three opponents from the league in one season.
But with annual clashes with Burroughs and Crescenta Valley falling by the wayside, the Golden Knights have looked to another nearby league to fill the void in the Monrovia Wildcats of the Rio Hondo League, who will visit Friedman Field at 7 p.m. Friday.
"With their success recently, [plus] it's a local game that replaces a couple of Pacific League foes and it's not too bad a travel, we thought it would be a good matchup," St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said of Monrovia, which won the CIF Southern Section Mid-Valley Division championship last season and is currently ranked third in the division. "We know they're athletic, too, so it helps us prepare for some of the teams that we play in [the Mission] League."
The Golden Knights have attempted to construct a rigorous set of challenges in their early games to ramp up for the start of league play and have passed most of them in going 3-1 with their only loss coming to Southeast Division No.1-ranked La Mirada on Sept. 14.
St. Francis, ranked fourth in the Western Division, was in danger of losing two in a row last week when it trailed West Ranch late, but the Golden Knights rallied for a 38-30 win on the road.
"For us to come back the way we did, it showed me a lot," Bonds said. "I like the fight in our team, I like their attitude and there's no quit. We might not be the most talented team on the field every night, but I know they're not going to quit, so that's a nice thing to have in your back pocket as a coach."
Monrovia showed the same competitive fire in its last game, scoring 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, but still lost to South Hills, 30-27, to fall to 2-2
"They're a very good football team," Bonds said of Monrovia, which also lost to Ayala, 16-15, in its season opener on Aug. 31. "They're 2-2, but they've lost to two very good teams in South Hills and Ayala. They're athletic, it should be a nice community game for us."
The Golden Knights have benefited from the strong play of quarterback Jared Lebowitz, who has topped the 200-yard mark passing in his past three games, including a season-best 304 against West Ranch. Daniel Kawamura has emerged as the team's top back with 359 yards on the season although he has been held under 100 in each of the past two games.
Defensive back Joey Velladao continues to lead the team in tackles with 48 after notching another 10 last week.
The Wildcats' offense is run by quarterback Blake Heyworth, a St. Francis transfer who has passed for 843 yards with eight touchdowns, but also five interceptions. The running game is powered by Ge Vontray Ainsworth and Darione Jones, who are averaging 8.68 and 5.37 yards per carry, respectively.
Sage Hill vs. Flintridge Prep at Occidental College, 10:30 a.m. Saturday: While injuries haven't plagued the Rebels so far as they did in 2011, their small numbers have made it difficult for them to close out games.
Flintridge Prep has seen three leads disappear — two in the fourth quarter — so far this season. Its defense has struggled in the fourth quarter when its star players start to cramp and have to take plays off. That was the focus of Prep Coach Antonio Harrison's postgame interview after his team fell to Malibu in its home opener Friday, 40-34.
Harrison and the Rebels, who are 1-3, will look to get back in the win column Saturday against a struggling Sage Hill squad. The Lightning is 0-5 this year and has lost by an average of 27.20 points after falling to Bishop, 48-13, last Saturday.
Both Flintridge Prep and Sage Hill are run-heavy offenses. Stefan Smith and Kurt Kozacik have fueled Prep's offense this season. Smith ran 235 yards, three scores on 20 carries and caught four passes for 89 yards and a touchdown and also blocked a Malibu extra-point kick to send last week's game into overtime. Kozacik tallied 77 yards on 16 carries against the Sharks.
The Lightning depend almost solely on Joe Melita. The senior running back has tallied 497 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 66 carries this year.
La Cañada at Arroyo, 7 p.m. Friday: The Spartans are in desperate need of building some momentum going into their Rio Hondo League opener with San Marino Oct. 5 with a three-game losing streak coming into their nonleague finale with Arroyo.
Most recently, the Spartans fell to Eagle Rock, 25-7, Friday. La Cañada Coach James Sims pulled his starters with about seven minutes left in the game in favor of a mainly junior varsity lineup. Andy Paynter, one of the few starters left in the game, scored La Cañada's lone touchdown on a three-yard run with 3:14 left.
Paynter finished with 107 yards on 25 carries. He has been La Cañada's most productive player on offense this year, averaging 90 yards a game with 360 on the season and three touchdowns on 73 carries.
The Spartans take on a 2-2 Arroyo squad that is coming off a 41-21 win over Rowland after it defeated Temple City, 21-0, in Week Two.
Arroyo has had balanced play calling through four games this year with 104 pass attempts to 106 running plays. Knights quarterback Nathan Coto has completed 59 of 104 passes for 692 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Peter Aholoka is the primary running back for Arroyo. He has run for 346 yards and two scores this season.