LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — If ever there was any doubt that momentum is transferable between halves, Friday night's Mission League finale served as a prime example that it indeed can happen.
After squeezing in two scores in the final minute of the opening half, the St. Francis High football team came out in the third quarter and scored on the kickoff return in the first of five touchdowns that quarter.
The Golden Knights scored three of those off fumble recoveries en route to a convincing 54-8 win over visiting Cathedral to finish third place in league.
"Our defense played really well," St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said. "They tried to use as much clock as they could in the first half. It was frustrating because we didn't get that many opportunities, but we broke it open in the second half.
"Just glad to be 8-2 [overall] and heading into the playoffs."
By way of the victory, the Golden Knights finished 3-2 in league and will be very likely an at-large selection heading into the CIF Southern Section Western Division playoffs starting next week.
The pairings will be announced Sunday morning by the CIF.
St. Francis, which entered ranked sixth in the division in the latest CIF poll, had only one drive in the first quarter after fumbling a punt return.
Midway through the second quarter, Billy McCreary converted a 38-yard field goal to break a scoreless tie.
After Cathedral (3-7, 0-5) punted on a three-and-out, St. Francis used five plays in two minutes to advance 46 yards, with junior quarterback Jared Lebowitz running once and connecting on three straight passes, including a 15-yard strike to Tommy Scheper for a 10-0 lead.
Following another Cathedral punt, Travis Talianko picked up a 30-yard return, setting up a 26-yard field goal by McCreary three plays later to push St. Francis ahead, 13-0.
"We knew they were going to kick the ball to us [to open the second half]," Bonds said. "So just to hold them and get the ball back and get a late field goal, it helped us get momentum."
That's when Christian Hess scored on a 94-yard kickoff return to open the second half.
On St. Francis' ensuing drive, Lebowitz connected on a 21-yard scoring pass to Jeff Garavaglia to make the score, 26-0.
Then, the Golden Knights scored three more touchdowns aided by fumble recovers, with two directly leading to scores.
Matt Casciani returned a fumble for a 10-yard touchdown, Raul Castillo scored on a 15-yard return and Luke Anderson capped the third-quarter scoring onslaught on a four-yard run two plays after Ryan McAleenan recovered a fumble.
In three quarters, Lebowitz completed seven of 16 passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns. He connected on six of 15 passes for 73 yards by halftime.
The win helped St. Francis finish with a two-game winning streak after losing back-to-back games.
Cathedral recorded only seven first downs, two coming late in the fourth quarter. It got two in the second quarter and three more in the third, but it was unable to score until it got a three-yard carry with 5:04 left to play.