St. Francis hosts Wildcats

St. Francis at West Ranch, 7:30 p.m. Friday: Just as it did last season, the St. Francis High football team is off to a 3-0 start. But it's likely the Golden Knights want the similarities with last season to stop this week.

Playing West Ranch for the first time a season ago, the Golden Knights were on the wrong end of a riveting 35-34 nailbiter in the Santa Clarita Valley.

This time around, St. Francis will host a showdown that will see the undefeated Golden Knights, ranked fifth in the CIF Southern Section Western Division, face off with a similarly unblemished Wildcats (4-0) squad that is ranked seventh in the Northern Division.

"West Ranch is well-coached and they will be a little different to play this year," said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds, whose Golden Knights relinquished 287 yards through the air and 218 on the ground in last year's matchup. "They are now more of a running team, where as last year, they hurt us both ways [on offense]. Their running back [Jeff Coprich] is not a real big guy, but he's got that flow, so we are going to have to try to contain him."

Coprich has tallied six touchdowns on the ground and averages 10.58 yards a carry, rushing for 402 yards on the season.

Another drastic change, however, has been the play of St. Francis' defense. Led by a linebacking corps that includes Joey Dowling and Ryan McAleenan, the Golden Knights' defense has aided mightily in a 31-28 win over Arcadia in which two Arcadia touchdowns came on a kickoff return and an interception, a 35-0 shutout of Crescenta Valley and last week's 27-17 win.

However, St. Francis is likely to have to deal without All-CIF cornerback Parker Nieves, who was set to undergo an MRI on Wednesday to determine the severity of a knee injury incurred against Venice.

"He's been our go-to guy and he's a two-way starter, plus he's our punt returner and kickoff returner," said Bonds of Nieves, who leads St. Francis with 10 receptions on offense and also has three passes defensed. "Seeing him go down with that injury was very tough."

Still, the offense has been buoyed by the big-play ability of Christian Hess, as the receiver has averaged 38.6 yards on six catches, with five going for touchdowns and another coming on a kick return.

The game will also kick off a three-game home stand for the Golden Knights.

"We are going to be at home the next three games," Bonds said. "We want to make sure we are playing well and make it tough for the visitors."

La Cañada at Maranatha, 7 p.m. Friday: The Spartans are coming off a tough loss to nonleague rival Crescenta Valley and it won't get much easier as they travel to Pasadena to take on Maranatha, the No. 1-ranked team in the CIF Southern Section Mid-Valley Division.

The Minutemen picked up a 22-point victory (43-21) when the two squads squared off last year. Both teams have gotten off to different starts this year, as La Cañada is 1-2 and Maranatha is an undefeated 4-0.

The Spartans have been struggling offensively, averaging 14.7 points per game, while the Minutemen, an offensive powerhouse, average 36.5.

La Cañada will have to worry about the dangerous aerial and ground attack Maranatha boasts, as quarterback Andrew Elffers and running back Omar Younger headline a dynamic offense.

Elffers completed 14 of 26 passes for 147 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in an emotional 38-35 victory over Salesian. Younger turned 14 carries into 124 yards and a score against Salesian.

The Spartans' quarterbacks, Matt Jones and Grant Owen, combined to complete seven of 23 passes for 120 yards against Crescenta Valley. Owen was impressive in two drives of work after Jones came out with an injury.

Flintridge Prep at Malibu, 1 p.m. Saturday: The Rebels hope to be healthy enough to defeat Malibu after they had to cancel last week's game against Campbell Hall when their already thin roster was decimated by injuries.

Flintridge Prep Coach Antonio Harrison called off the Campbell Hall game after he would have only had 12 to 13 players available. The Rebels (1-3) will look to make due with 15 or 16 players suiting up this week.

"I am glad to be back," Harrison said. "We still have some concerns and we still have a small roster, so it's hard for us to not worry about [injuries], but we are pushing forward."

Lucas Kim, the team's starting middle linebacker and wing back, will return to the team after missing most of the last two games. Prep will have to do without its starting running back and No. 1 corner Chris Wirthlin and its backup running back, Kurt Kocazik. Stefan Smith will take over in the Rebels' backfield.

"I think [Smith] will do well," Harrison said. "He's an athlete and a playmaker when the ball is in his hands. The key is not to give it to him too much, so he has some left in the tank at the end of the game."

The Rebels come into Saturday's game with a three-game losing streak, after getting blown out by St. Genevieve (49-13) on Sept. 9; Grace Brethren (48-0) on Sept. 16 and forfeiting last week's game.

Malibu (2-2) is coming off a 49-12 win over Bell-Jeff. Last year, the Sharks battled to a 14-14 tie with the Rebels. Flintridge Prep's lone win of the season was also against Bell-Jeff, albeit a far closer 9-6 victory.

"The nice thing with the week off was that we got to watch last year's game on film and film from this year on [Malibu]," Harrison said. "They were reminded of that game and got to take a look at the team this year.

"I think we match up pretty well. We know they are dealing with small numbers, too, although not quite as low as us. It should be a dogfight; it will come down to who wants it more."

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