Last-second Rancho Verde kick sends St. Francis football to heartbreak

LA CAÑADA – When the fortuitous kick of Rancho Verde High sophomore kicker Luis Santiago lifted into the night, all of Friedman Field seemingly held its breath.

When it came down, Rancho Verde celebrated wildly, while St. Francis, for a moment forgetful of the history it had already written, fell heartbroken.

With no time left, Santiago’s 37-yard field goal decided the CIF Southern Section Division III title football game in favor of Rancho Verde over St. Francis, 44-42, on Friday night at St. Francis High, sending the Golden Knights to a dramatic defeat in their first title game in 53 years.

Not long before, St. Francis (12-2) had taken its first lead of the game, 42-41, when Nico Boschetti converted the extra point after Kevin Armstead’s three-yard, go-ahead scoring run with 1:01 left in the ballgame.

“I was like, ‘Man, that’s a lot of time left on the clock,’” St. Francis coach Jim Bonds said. “They’re just such a quick-strike offense.”

Big plays and the ability to answer every St. Francis score told the tale for fourth-seeded Rancho Verde (12-2) in its first title win since 2011 when it won the Central Section crown.

“What a worthy opponent,” Mustangs coach Jeff Steinberg said of St. Francis. “Classy, high-character, great discipline and great technique.

“It went down to the wire. We’ve been on the other end of some of those.”

Rancho Verde totaled 703 yards of offense with seven plays of 30 or more yards, led by sophomore quarterback Brock White, who completed 22 of 39 passes for 504 yards and four touchdowns, including a 64-yard strike to Kamryn Woodson (seven receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns) for a 41-35 advantage with 2:10 to play. But the ensuing point-after attempt was missed.

Having led from the end of its opening drive throughout, Rancho Verde couldn’t contain St. Francis’ counter.

Junior quarterback Darius Perrantes (four total touchdowns) drove the team downfield and with 1:01 to play, Armstead (two touchdowns) scored on a three-yard run to tie it before the PAT.

Rancho Verde picked its way downfield, though, and the last team with the ball was the one that claimed the title victory.

“When things got going again in the fourth,” Bonds said, “it started feeling like a last-possession game.”

The game was tied at 7 after the first quarter, at 21 at halftime and Rancho Verde emerged with a 28-21 lead heading into the fourth, when the offenses scored on all five possessions.

All six St. Francis touchdowns were answered by points on the ensuing drive from Rancho Verde.

“It seemed like we were always playing catch-up,” Bonds said. “Until they missed that extra point, but it just wasn’t enough.”

In the final game of a storied postseason run and his St. Francis career, receiver Greg Dulcich had another big game with four catches for 127 yards and a touchdown. He had 490 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in four playoff games.

Perrantes, who had 10 touchdown passes and five rushing scores in the playoffs, completed 13 of 23 passes for 294 yards and the two scores and rushed for 45 yards in 15 carries and two scores. Armstead had 75 yards in 14 carries and the two scores as senior running back Elijah Washington had just two carries as he was battling a knee injury.

Running its no-huddle spread offense to precision, Rancho Verde wasted no time taking a lead, scoring on the opening drive of the game. Xavier Ugorji (18 carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns) scored from two yards on a run, but White hit Woodson on a 47-yard pass to set it up.

White threw for 306 yards and a pair of scores to open the half, his first was on the opening play of the second quarter when he hit Manny Allen for a 94-yard score across the middle and up the left sideline for a 14-7 lead.

St. Francis tied the game at 7 when Armstead burst up the middle for a three-yard first-quarter score. But the Golden Knights were always playing catch-up.

St. Francis tied it again at 14 on a two-yard Perrantes sneak with 7:05 to go in the half.

Rancho Verde fired right back when White hit Jasiah Richard-Lewis for a 58-yard score and a 21-14 advantage with 5:21 to go in the half.

The Golden Knights answered with just 59 ticks to go in the half when Perrantes hit Dulcich on the left side and Dulcich followed a convoy of blockers into the end zone for a 35-yard score.

Down, 28-21, in the third, St. Francis tied it again on a Perrantes one-yard sneak. Trailing by a touchdown one more time, St. Francis again tied it, this time at 35 when Perrantes found Blake Howard on fourth and nine for a 12-yard score.

Having come up short of semifinal victories five previous times this century, Bonds’ Golden Knights defeated El Toro, 52-17, to find their way into the program’s first championship since 1964.

Alas a fortuitous kick by Santiago took this last Friday night away from the Golden Knights, though not a season to remember.

Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon