PASO ROBES — Yet again, the St. Francis High football team turned in a stagnant performance early.
And once more, a frenzied Golden Knights rally wasn't enough.
St. Francis lost its second straight game on Friday night, falling to host Paso Robles, 42-28, and leaving the Golden Knights with plenty of questions to answer with the start of Mission League play just a week away.
"It's hard to put my finger on what it is," said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds, whose team, ranked fifth in the CIF Southern Section Western Division, fell to 3-2 with a league opener against powerhouse Gardena Serra awaiting Oct. 16. "It obviously didn't seem like we were ready to play in the first half."
St. Francis was down by 14 at the half and behind 28-7 late in the third quarter before the Golden Knights offense finally got going, but once more it was too late.
"We kept shooting ourselves in the foot," said Bonds, whose team was victimized by costly penalties, dropped passes and just an overall lack of execution in the early going.
Paso Robles (3-2) overcame a 7-0 deficit early in the second quarter and ran off the game's next 28 points, largely due to the hands and feet of quarterback Jacob Searcy (18 of 25 passing for 277 yards and four touchdowns and 97 yards rushing in 10 carries) and receiver Elias Stokes (eight catches for 114 yards and two scores), who caught his 10th and 11th scoring passes of the year in the second quarter.
"They had a nice game plan," said Bonds of the Bearcats.
Part of that game plan came with a steady blitz on defense that hounded Golden Knights quarterback Brett Nelson for five sacks. Perhaps it was no coincidence that three-year starting tackle Patrick Carroll missed his second straight game.
"They did a lot of different things," said Bonds, whose team lost to West Ranch, 35-34, despite 20 fourth-quarter points. "I'm not gonna make excuses, but obviously we'd love to have Patrick out there."
Nelson still did his part in trying to lead a St. Francis comeback that saw the Golden Knights down, 28-7, late in the third quarter. The senior quarterback completed 18 of 26 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns, while adding a rushing score.
Culminating a no-huddle drive that took just six plays and 1:50 to cover 74 yards, Nelson found receiver Travis Talianko for a 28-yard scoring hookup with 58 seconds left in the third to cut the score to 28-14. Talianko went up in between two defenders, took a massive hit, juggled the ball and still came down with the catch.
But Paso Robles answered right back, as St. Francis' defense had its troubles all game long. It was an aspect that Bonds said was at least partially to do with the offense's struggles, though.
"We're trying to establish a running game and give our defense some time to rest," said Bonds, whose rushing attack tallied just 63 yards in 31 attempts and lost starter Michael Melnick in the first half due to a possible concussion. "Going three and out every time doesn't help."
Talianko had five catches for 100 yards, while Ian Hamilton had three balls for 129 yards, the first of which came on a 77-yard catch-and-run with 8:54 left in the game that cut the score to 35-21.
It was followed by a St. Francis onside kick attempt that was returned for a touchdown, however, which effectively sealed the game.
St. Francis kept coming, though, as Hamilton hauled in his second scoring grab on the ensuing drive, catching a slant for a 10-yard score. But after a second onside attempt by St. Francis was recovered with 6:33 remaining, Paso Robles worked nearly five minutes off the clock.
The Golden Knights nabbed a 7-0 lead just eight seconds into the second quarter. A 30-yard strike from Nelson to Talianko led to an eventual seven-yard scoring scramble by Nelson.
But the Golden Knights went cold thereafter, punting on their next three drives. Meanwhile, the Bearcats caught fire, particularly due to the Searcy-to-Stokes combination.
After incompletions on his first three attempts, Searcy completed his next five, all to Stokes, for 103 yards, with two scores included. Benefiting from a 16-yard St. Francis punt, Paso Robles scored once more before the half with 33 seconds left.