Knights geared up for kickoff

In its opening-round game of the CIF Southern Section Western Division playoffs, the St. Francis High football team encountered a bit of difficulty before turning back a league champion.

It will seek to do the same thing once again, though the task figures to be more complicated, when St. Francis meets second-seeded Arroyo Grande in a quarterfinal home game at 7 p.m. today at Friedman Field.

Arroyo Grande advanced to the championship game last season, falling to Gardena Serra.

"There are six leagues in our division and it's almost always a guarantee that you will play a league champion in the second round," St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said. "We have to do what we do best and make any corrections from the previous game."

The Golden Knights (9-2) began their playoff journey Friday with a 45-28 road victory against Paramount. St. Francis held a 21-7 halftime lead before Paramount, which shared the San Gabriel Valley League title, pulled to within 21-20 in the third quarter. St. Francis then used another offensive surge to put the game out of reach.

St. Francis running back Austin De Los Santos finished with 72 yards rushing in 15 carries, but teammate Luke Anderson stole the spotlight by rushing for three touchdowns to help the Golden Knights win their third game in a row. St. Francis quarterback Jared Lebowitz completed 10 of 13 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns, one each to Tommy Scheper, Joe Mudie and Christian Hess.

"Offensively, that was our best game so far and everything just seemed to be working," said Bonds, whose team finished third in the Mission League and earned one of the division's four at-large berths along with Culver City, Dominguez and San Luis Obispo. "We are playing our best football right now and that's what you want at this point of the year.

"We are going to worry about what we can control and learn more about Arroyo Grande's tendencies on offense and defense."

The Eagles (10-1) opened their playoff run with a convincing 41-6 home win against Dos Pueblos and stretched their winning streak to 10. They will feature plenty of weapons, including wide receiver Garrett Owens, quarterback Brent VanderVeen and running back Seth Jacobs, who aren't afraid to mix it up against St. Francis' physical defense that received 14 tackles from Anderson and 11 from Joey Dowling against Paramount.

The Air Force Academy-bound Owens caught seven passes and intercepted two against Dos Pueblos. VanderVeen completed 12 of 19 passes for 193 yards and threw a pair of touchdowns. Jacobs rushed for 80 yards in nine carries and scored one touchdown.

Arroyo Grande, which won the PAC-7 League championship, has scored 28 or more points in each of its contests.

"We know that we can't give up the big plays," Bonds said. "If we bend but don't break on defense, then we feel like we have a chance.

"They will be a challenge and we have our work cut out. Athletically, they kind of compare to Chaminade. They have a lot of good players to hand the ball to and they run great schemes. They also have a big quarterback who can drop back and throw."

Arroyo Grande fifth-year Coach Tom Goossen said the Eagles, who will travel about 350 miles round trip, have been successful at spreading the ball around the field.

"We've had success over the year being able to run the ball, and, when the situation calls for it, we can throw the ball upfield," said Goossen, a former Hoover defensive coordinator. "Our offensive line just keeps getting better and that's a big plus.

"St. Francis is multi-faceted. Their quarterback can distribute balls to the tight ends and their linebackers are very aggressive. I think it could be a slugfest and the game will probably be decided in the last minutes of the fourth quarter."

The winner of the St. Francis-Arroyo Grande contest will meet third-seeded Chaminade or San Luis Obispo in a semifinal game.

The other quarterfinal matchups scheduled for today include Culver City, which upset top-seeded Serra, playing host to Righetti and fourth-seeded Ventura traveling to Santa Monica.

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