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St. Francis football falls behind, never recovers in first-round playoff loss at Cajon

Football2
The St. Francis High football team took on Cajon in a CIF Division III playoff game Friday.
(File Photo)

A look at the recent history of the St. Francis High football team would suggest the Golden Knights have become a feast-or-famine program.

Either the squad enjoys a deep postseason run with at least two victories, or St. Francis suffers a quick first-round exit.

Unfortunately for the visiting Golden Knights, Friday night’s first-round effort proved lean.

St. Francis surrendered the game’s first 28 points and never recovered, falling at No. 8-ranked San Bernardino Cajon, 42-14, in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs on Friday evening.

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The postseason defeat is the third straight for the Angelus League tri-champion Golden Knights (8-3), who have lost in the first round in three of the last five years and who have not won a playoff game since advancing to the CIF Southern Section Division III championship contest in 2017.

“They just had a number of very good athletes to contend with and their defense was very stingy,” St. Francis head coach Jim Bonds said of Citrus Belt League champion Cajon (9-2). “Their pass protection was great. Their run game was great. They were just tough.”

St. Francis had no answers for Cajon’s 5-foot-7 scat back Freddy Fletcher. The sophomore was both elusive and quick in rushing 29 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns.

Cajon senior quarterback Jonathan Calderon also turned in big plays, completing 12 of 15 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns.

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Cajon’s offense picked up at least one first down on each of its nine possessions.

On the flip side, six of St. Francis’ drives did not produce a first down, while the Golden Knights lost the turnover battle, 3-0.

Golden Knights quarterback Jack Clougherty completed 11 of 28 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns versus three interceptions.

Clougherty’s biggest target was junior receiver Bryson Reeves, who caught four passes for 116 yards and one touchdown.

St. Francis senior running back Kevin Armstead capped off a wonderful career with 18 carries for 75 yards and four receptions for 41 yards.

Cajon took a 21-0 lead into halftime and appeared to deliver the knockout blow when Calderon connected with BJ Phillips on a 62-yard scoring pass play that put the Cowboys ahead, 28-0, with 10:45 left in the third.

St. Francis showed signs of life when Clougherty connected on a 38-yard touchdown pass to Reeves that brought the Golden Knights to within 21 at 7:54 in the third.

St. Francis kicker Jake Smith then recovered his own on-side kick to give the Golden Knights momentum and the ball at the Cajon 49.

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The good vibrations ended, however, four plays later when Cajon’s Rodney Robison intercepted a deflected pass at the Cowboys’ 43 at 5:44 in the third.

Cajon turned that gaffe into gold when Fletcher punched in a five-yard score to put the home team ahead, 35-7, with 1:14 left.

St. Francis did add one score on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Clougherty to Matthew Buntich to pull within 35-14 at the start of the fourth.

Cajon, however, countered with a five-yard rushing touchdown from Amir Brown to end scoring for both sides.

The loss snapped a two-game winning streak for St. Francis, which posted back-to-back shutouts over Salesian and Cathedral in the last two regular-season games to forge a three-way league crown.

“We had a lot of heart, but we came up short against a great team,” Armstead said. “I’m proud of these guys and proud to be on this team.”

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