LOS ANGELES — Little has come easy for the St. Francis High football team this season.
Thus, even facing a struggling Cathedral squad, St. Francis was forced to rally in dramatic fashion.
With 42 seconds left, and his team trailing by one, receiver Travis Talianko got separation on a fade, tip-toed along the side of the end zone and hauled in a game-winning 12-yard touchdown pass from Brett Nelson to propel the visiting Golden Knights to a 28-21 Mission League win against the Phantoms.
"That's not in our realm of possibility," said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds of things coming easy. "We were happy to come out of here with a 'W. "
"Anytime you can go on the road and get a win in the Mission League, it's big."
Especially big considering St. Francis (5-4, 2-2 in league) kept its hopes of a top-three league finish and an automatic postseason bid alive with the win over Cathedral (5-4, 1-3). Trailing 21-20 with no timeouts, Bonds could have elected to go with kicker Ian Sternau — who had already made field goals of 35 and 33 yards — but he chose to go for six.
"I have unbelievable faith in Ian Sternau," said Bonds, " but this is high school football, you can't count on a field goal.
"You've got the snap, the hold. We wanted to take one more shot."
The first shot was a slant pattern in which Talianko, who had five catches for 68 yards and two scores, was blanketed.
"He came back and had confidence in me," Talianko said. "The corner bit and Brett put up a perfect ball."
For the most part, St. Francis' passing game struggled, whether it was dropped passes or just bad throws from Nelson, who completed 13 of 33 passes for 188 yards and two scores.
"Our timing was off a little in the passing game," Bonds said.
But running back Austin De Los Santos certainly did his part, rushing for 115 yards and a touchdown in 21 carries.
"Austin had a great game," Bonds said. "He had a lot of hard yards."
St. Francis led by scores of 7-0 and 14-7 in the first half and 17-14 early in the third quarter, but Cathedral took its first lead with 1:03 left in the third.
The Golden Knights got interceptions from Parker Nieves, Ryan McAleenan and Ted Williams, with Williams' pick clinching the game with 10 seconds left.
It started out well enough for St. Francis, as a ball deflected off a Cathedral receiver and into the hands of Nieves on the second play from scrimmage. Five plays later, Nelson found Talianko for a six-yard score with 10:39 to go in the opening quarter.
But a St. Francis fumble on its next drive led to a 7-7 ball game, as Cathedra took over on the Golden Knights' 10 after the turnover.
St. Francis recovered quickly, marching 46 yards in seven plays, all runs, to go ahead, 14-7, on a De Los Santos six-yard run with 10:51 left in the half.
Cathedral tied the game on its ensuing drive.
St. Francis will look to secure at least third place in league next week on the road against Harvard-Westlake.
"I think we looked at scores," said Talianko, in reference to Cathedral's past league losses. "No league win is easy.
"I think we learned our lesson."