COMPTON — As it showed throughout the season, the St. Francis High football team could play with the very best in the CIF Southern Section Western Division.
But in a game brimming with big plays, the Golden Knights came up one last big play short.
Though the tandem had terrorized host Dominguez all night long, one last pass from Brett Nelson to Travis Talianko was no to be. A fourth-and-18 attempt by Nelson from the Golden Knights' 48-yard line was low and bounced from the grasp of Talianko to secure a 28-25 win for the second-seeded Dons in the opening round of the Western Division playoffs on Friday night.
"I think that's probably true," said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds of his team's ability to hang with the division's best, only to come up just short, summing up much of the season. "I think we're right there with all four of those teams.
"I think we're right there."
Dominguez (10-1) was held on fourth and 11 from the St. Francis 31 with 3:13 left to set up the Golden Knights' final drive.
It was a final drive that began chaotically, as the Dons were late getting to the line and an opportunistic St. Francis offense looked out of sync, snapping the ball early. Nonetheless, Nelson found an open Christian Hess, but the pass was bobbled.
Five plays later and St. Francis' season was over at 6-5 — with losses to top-seeded Serra, third-seeded Chaminade and fourth–seeded Paso Robles included.
"It was kind of happening in slow motion," Bonds said of the last drive's final play. "[We] would have liked to have that last drive to do over again. But unfortunately, you don't get to do that."
The loss certainly wasn't for lack of a fight, as the Golden Knights rallied from 21-10 and 28-17 second-half deficits.
Nelson passed for 275 yards and three touchdowns, all to Talianko, on 16 of 27 passing. He also fought through two tacklers for a two-point conversion run that made the score 28-25 with 8:27 left in the game.
"I thought Brett played his best game of the year in the biggest game of the year," Bonds said. "I'm very proud of him."
Nelson hooked up with Talianko on touchdowns of 25, 25 and five yards. Talianko had eight receptions for 166 yards, despite a steady stream of double teams.
"He found ways to get open," Bonds said.
But St. Francis found itself playing from behind from the start, as Dominguez' double wing offense tallied 480 total yards, including 320 on the ground.
"It's hard to adjust to," said Bonds, of the double wing along with the Dons' speed and size. "You just can't simulate their size and speed in practice."
It was a bit of an auspicious start for St. Francis, as a mishandled squib kick led to it starting the game's first possession on its own three-yard line.
After a three-and-out, Dominguez marched 61 yards on just five plays to take a 7-0 lead.
An Ian Sternau 42-yard field goal cut the score to 7-3, but the Dons found themselves with a healthy 14-3 lead after scoring with 1:37 left in the half, as quarterback Chris Brown threw a 34-yard score on a third-and-10 play.
In the opening half, Dominguez tallied 247 total yards, but a Ryan McAleenan recovery of a Dons fumble at the St. Francis one-yard line early in the second quarter proved to be a saving grace.
And a Nelson-to-Talianko 25-yard score with 16 seconds in the first half put the Golden Knights right back in the game, as they trailed, 14-10, at the half. The score culminated a 64-yard drive that began with 1:25 to go in the half and took but 1:09. Talianko, who had five catches for 115 yards in the first half, had three grabs for 65 yards on the scoring drive.