ARCADIA — The St. Francis High football team had a disastrous start to its 2011 season opener, but a memorable and thrilling ending.
Nearly three hours after having the opening kickoff returned for a touchdown and allowing another quick score that put them 14 points behind, the Golden Knights rode the strength of a determined senior running back and a promising junior quarterback to prevail.
Kicker Billy McCreary chipped in a 19-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining to give St. Francis a 31-28 nonleague victory over host Arcadia on Friday night.
"I'm very proud of our guys for not giving up," St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said. "We didn't quit, we fought back and we found a way to win. It wasn't pretty, first games are ugly.
"We didn't panic and we kept fighting. You have to remember it's a 48-minute game."
It was a game which tailback Austin De Los Santos nearly didn't finish. He had a strained left MCL and was questionable to even play. After pleading with Bonds to play, De Los Santos rushed for 109 yards in 24 carries to wear down the Apaches, as the Golden Knights overcame an 18-point deficit. De Los Santos had six carries for 38 yards in a Golden Knights' 12-play, 73-yard game-winning drive.
"This is my graduating class, these are my brothers," De Los Santos said. "We needed to make a statement that we're on the map. We're coming.
"We played as one unit, it's not one person."
De Los Santos had plenty of help. Jared Lebowitz threw three touchdown passes in his first varsity start. Two of those scores went to Christian Hess. Another touchdown pass went to Ryan McAleenan.
"He made some clutch throws," Bonds said. "Lebowitz threw for 230 yards, 66 of which went to Hess, whose 28-yard scoring catch gave the Golden Knights a 28-20 lead with 2:26 left in the third quarter.