PARAMOUNT — The challenges will undoubtedly only get tougher going forward, but for one night, the St. Francis High football team was able to bask in the aftermath of a convincing first playoff win, 45-28, over host Paramount in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Western Division playoffs Friday night.
"It feels great. Last year we lost in the first round of the playoffs and I've never had a home game on Thanksgiving [weekend] so it's going to be nice," said Golden Knights senior running back Luke Anderson, who rushed for three touchdowns on the night. "We really wanted to run the ball on them, the run game is our thing, but we passed the ball well today, too, so we're really coming together."
St. Francis rushed for 237 yards, led by Austin De Los Santos' 72 in 15 carries, and saw quarterback Jared Lebowitz pass for 145 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, St. Francis turned in another fine performance, holding the Pirates to 222 total yards and limiting them to just two offensive plays greater than 20 yards.
"We felt like we could move the ball on them and just mix it up," said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds, whose team (9-2) will face Arroyo Grande at 7:30 p.m. at home on Friday. "I thought our quarterback managed the game very well and [did well] throwing the ball, but I thought our run game was pretty open most of the night. We got really good push from our guys up front."
Paramount's offense, which was led by 83 rushing yards from Deonte Dixon and 152 passing yards from quarterback Lamont Odom, couldn't do much over the course of the night to keep the game interesting, but the Golden Knights' sure did, fumbling the ball away on consecutive plays from scrimmage during one hair-raising stretch to open the third quarter.
Leading, 21-7, at halftime, St. Francis saw De Los Santos lose a fumble on the Knights' 40-yard line that Cristian Andrade recovered for the Pirates and returned for a touchdown. After the ensuing kickoff, a bad exchange between Lebowitz and De Los Santos in the backfield ended up on the ground and was recovered by Paramount's Devonte Dixon at the St. Francis 32-yard line. The Pirates cashed in the turnover two plays later on a four-yard run by Devonte Dixon and would have tied the game if not for a missed extra-point attempt.
"The only times we got stopped on offense was when we stopped ourselves," Bonds said. "We scored 45 points and we put the ball on the ground twice. They really never stopped us."
The shaky ball carrying continued for the Golden Knights, who would fumble twice more on separate possessions in the third period, but recovered both and culminated both drives in touchdowns to take a 35-20 lead with 4:52 left in the third.
"I just know we were all wet and sweaty and slipping. I couldn't tell you [what happened], but we've got to protect the ball better," said Anderson, who scored his second touchdown of the night on a six-yard run to make it 35-20 after Lebowitz hit Joe Mudie for a 15-yard touchdown at the 7:46 mark to make it 28-20. "We let them back in the game, but it was good that we got our head on straight again and made it happen."
St. Francis capped a 55-yard drive at the 8:07 mark of the third with a one-yard Anderson run to go up, 42-20, and put the game away.
St. Francis held Paramount (5-6) on its game-opening drive and then held the ball for the next 6:10 before taking a 7-0 lead on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Lebowitz to Tommy Scheper. Paramount answered with an 81-yard touchdown run by Deonte Dixon on its next possession, but St. Francis scored twice more in the second quarter on a two-yard Anderson run and a 35-yard pass from Lebowitz to Christian Hess at the 2:28 mark.
Paramount then drove to the St. Francis 12 inside the last 20 seconds, but defensive back Billy McCreary broke up consecutive passes into the end zone to force a field-goal attempt that was missed.
"They've been our backbone all year," Bonds said of the defense. "They've hung on to some big games for us and kept us in games all year long."