St. Francis surges to big victory

SOUTHEAST GLENDALE — A season removed from one of the more captivating games in recent rivalry chronicle, the latest "Battle for Foothill Boulevard" was hardly a battle at all.

Spearheaded by a four-touchdown performance from senior quarterback Brett Nelson, St. Francis High blitzed Crescenta Valley for 28 first-half points and never looked back en route to a 42-14 nonleague win, the Golden Knights' ninth in a row in the rivalry.

"Our game plan was perfect," said Nelson, who completed 13 of 22 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for a seven-yard score, all four touchdowns coming during St. Francis' 28-0 opening-half surge. "We saw what they were gonna do [on film]."

Aside from an opening-play blemish in which the Golden Knights fumbled the ball away, they scored early, often and quickly.

Crescenta Valley High Coach Paul Schilling stressed prior to the game that his team couldn't turn the ball over or let St. Francis work with a short field. Those two aspects led to 21 first-half points, however.

"They're good," Schilling said of St. Francis (2-0), the fourth-ranked team in the CIF Southern Section Western Division. "They're just a better team than we are right now.

"We got ourselves in trouble."

The Falcons (1-1), using a 4-6 defense against St. Francis' double tight-end set, were able, early on, to neutralize the run, which had been the Golden Knights' focal point in their previous win against Arcadia, but Nelson quickly made that aspect of the game moot.

He completed six straight passes on his team's second drive, culminating with a 13-yarder to Travis Talianko in the flat for a 7-0 lead with 6:33 to go in the first.

"Last time [against Arcadia], we ran the ball a lot and won the game," Nelson said, "this time we passed it a lot and won the game. That's what having a balanced offense will do."

Having stellar field position didn't hurt, either.

After marching for 80 yards on its first scoring drive, St. Francis began its next three straight touchdown drives from the CV 20, 27 and 30 after a two-yard punt, a Ryan Jenkins interception and a 13-yard punt, respectively.

Nelson, who also had four total touchdowns against Arcadia, scored on a seven-yard option keep with 2:50 left in the first quarter, then found Talianko for a four-yard scoring hookup five seconds into the second stanza and finally hit Keith Enterante on a six-yard play-action.

And for all intents and purposes, the game had been decided, as, meanwhile, St. Francis' defense was allowing little if any Crescenta Valley offense. The Falcons would net just three first downs in the first half, all of them coming after they were down 28-0.

"I'm very happy with our defense," said St. Francis Coach Bonds, whose defense allowed but 151 yards of offense. "[The Falcons] do some gadgety things out there and it's tough to prepare for."

It was a few "gadgety things" that helped Crescenta Valley (1-1), which dropped a 28-21 decision to St. Francis last season, get its points in the second half, as the home team rallied around staying competitive.

"The kids competed," Schilling said. "We talked about that at halftime, I know it's cliché, but … we did do that and we did better."

Kevin Fernandez scored from 33 yards out on a reverse to cut the score to 28-7 with 6:59 left in the third, but St. Francis immediately answered with its own reverse on a pitch play, as Jenkins streaked 61 yards to pay dirt, with Nelson leading the way downfield, looking to make a block.

"That was pretty neat seeing him out there in front of Ryan," Bonds said.

CV quarterback Zac Wilkerson, who was sacked four times and pressured all game long to the tune of an eight-for-22 day in which he passed for just 63 yards, scored on a one-yard sneak to make it 35-14. The drive was keyed by an option pass from Mark Sereno to Nikko Domingo that covered 34 yards.

St. Francis answered one last time with Austin De Los Santos, who had 50 yards in five carries, scoring on an eight-yard jaunt. In the end, St. Francis tallied 186 yards rushing, with Michael Melnick grabbing 51 in 15 carries, and the 367 total yards were balanced out. But when the game was still up for grabs, it was clearly the Knights' passing attack that was the catalyst.

"Our plan was to bring pressure, but it didn't matter," Schilling said.

Aside from senior Patrick Arnold tallying the first and only sack of the season thus far against St. Francis, Nelson was rarely bothered in the backfield.

"That's the benefit of having a good offensive line," Bonds said.

Talianko finished with five catches for 56 yards, while Ian Hamilton had five grabs for 84 yards. Marro Lee led CV with 59 yards in 14 carries.

Despite some rather impressive numbers on both sides of the ball, while happy with the outcome, Nelson said the Golden Knights are far from where they want to be.

"We know where we're at," he said, "but we also know there's a lot to improve."

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