LOS ANGELES — Just inches away from touching the goal line, Christian Hess caught the kickoff and hustled downfield. What the St. Francis High football player didn't count on was racing the length of the field untouched and providing his team with a much-needed touchdown and a boost of energy.
Hess proved how valuable he can be for St. Francis, as he scored two touchdowns to power the visiting Golden Knights to a 27-17 intersectional victory against host Venice on Friday night.
In addition to being a wide receiver, St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds handed Hess the responsibility of returning kickoffs this season for the first time.
The senior came through when the Golden Knights (3-0) needed him to be at his best, as his return brought St. Francis to within 10-9 with 7:07 remaining in the third quarter.
"I wanted to get something going and I saw a hole open after Tommy Scheper made a great block," said Hess, who scored his first career touchdown on a kickoff. "It was such a big hole and I went down the sideline and nobody touched me.
"I had to hit that hole no matter what."
After Venice (1-2) took a 17-9 lead on its ensuing possession, back came the Golden Knights with Hess providing more heroics with his lone catch in the contest.
St. Francis quarterback Jared Lebowitz connected with Hess for a 68-yard touchdown pass to close to within 17-15. Lebowitz then tossed a pass to Jeff Garavaglia on the two-point conversion to knot the game at 17 with 4:02 left in the third quarter.
"On the touchdown, it was a play called to my side and I just ran a post," Hess said. "Jared threw an awesome pass to me and I broke off a tackle to score."
Bonds said Hess' kickoff return shifted the momentum in St. Francis' favor following a sluggish start.
"A huge jump start when he scored," said Bonds, whose team opened the season with nonleague wins against Arcadia and Crescenta Valley. "We were struggling to get something going and then he came through like that.
"He's got to be one of our game breakers and he's got the speed to be able to do that."
The Golden Knights, ranked fifth in the latest CIF Southern Section Western Division poll, couldn't get on track throughout most of the first half, due mostly to Venice constantly blitzing. The Golden Knights lost starting wide receiver Parker Nieves to an apparent knee injury early in the first quarter and then lost linebacker Nathan Clark to an ankle injury a short time later. Neither returned and it wasn't clear when they would next play.
The Gondoliers began the scoring on their first drive when wide receiver Jahret Hood caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alexander Diamont to make it 7-0 with 8:27 left in the first quarter.
St. Francis linebacker Austin De Los Santos, who also rushed for 139 yards in 21 carries, recovered a fumble at the Venice 27-yard line. The Golden Knights cashed it in on a 37-yard field goal by Billy McCreary to close to within 7-3 with 1:31 remaining in the first half. The Gondoliers held a 7-3 halftime advantage.
Venice made it 10-3 on a 21-yard field goal by Emannuel McLean with 7:22 left in the third quarter before Hess went to work to help tie the game at 17.
McCreary gave St. Francis its first lead when he converted on a 23-yard field goal to make it 20-17 with 9:06 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Golden Knights wrapped up the scoring when Lebowitz scored on a 15-yard run with 8:01 left. Prior to Lebowitz's touchdown, defensive back Raul Castillo scooped up a fumble for the Golden Knights near the Venice 40-yard line and returned it to the 27.
St. Francis, which will next meet visiting West Ranch in a nonleague game at 7:30 p.m. Friday, also got an interception from McCreary and a fumble recovery by lineman Tyler Marona.