GARDENA — The halftime score suggested the St. Francis High football team was going to get blown out in its first Mission League road game against Serra on Friday night.
The Golden Knights fought their way back in the game, though, and put a legitimate scare into the Cavaliers' homecoming crowd. Two costly St. Francis mistakes late in the second quarter were too much to overcome for the Golden Knights, in their first loss of the season, 44-30.
Down 14-7, Serra (5-2, 2-0 in league) — ranked fourth in the CIF Southern Section Western Division poll — got a fortunate bounce, as it punted the ball and recovered it at St. Francis' 27-yard line after it bounced off a Golden Knights player. Four plays later, Cavaliers running back Anterio Bateman scored on a three-yard run to extend the lead to 21-7 lead.
"It was 14-7 at that point," St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said. "If we get the ball back it's still a game. Instead they take over and get an easy score."
The Cavaliers added 10 points in the last 15 seconds of the first half when quarterback Jalen Greene hit his receiver, Raymond Ford, on a 35-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds left in the half for a 28-7 lead. St. Francis fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which Serra recovered and immediately turned around and converted into an 18-yard field goal to take a 31-7 lead into halftime.
The Golden Knights — ranked third in the Western Division poll — came out strong in the second half, scoring on three of their first four second-half drives to cut the score to 38-30, after Bateman added another touchdown from 27 yards out for Serra.
"We talked about playing with pride in the second half [during halftime]," Bonds said.
St. Francis quarterback Jared Lebowitz did just that, as he was responsible for two of his team's three scores in the second half. He finished the game completing 16 of 36 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns. Austin De Los Santos scored the Golden Knights' other touchdown on a three-yard run. He finished the game with 13 carries for 45 yards and 16-yard reception.
Lebowitz' third touchdown pass of the game, a 30-yarder to Christian Hess (two catches for two touchdowns and 62 yards) put his team within eight points, 38-30, with 7:53 left in the game.
It looked like the Golden Knights (6-1, 1-1 in league) might pull off the comeback about four minutes later when Trevor Provencio recovered a Cavaliers fumble at St. Francis' 45. The Golden Knights were unable to move the ball and were forced to punt on a three-and-out, giving Serra the ball with 2:46 left in the game and a chance to run out the clock.
Instead, Bateman broke a 26-yard touchdown run to put the game out of doubt, 44-30. He finished the game with 21 carries for 168 yards and three touchdowns. Greene was also a force to be reckoned with for Serra, completing eight of 19 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 78 yards and a score.
St. Francis receiver Travis Talianko finished with a game-high six catches for 118 yards. The Golden Knights' tight end, Ryan McAleenan, was the one who caught Lebowitz's first touchdown, a 10-yard reception, to tie the game at 7 with 2:28 remaining in the first quarter.
"We've been down before, this wasn't a new situation for us," Bonds said. "At halftime, we talked about building something that we can carry into next week and that's what we did."