Season slips away in fourth

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — In a game rife with overwhelming momentum swings, it appeared early on in Friday night's CIF Southern Section Western Division quarterfinal game that whichever team had the momentum last would move on to the semifinals.

That team, in resounding fashion, was visiting Arroyo Grande High.

Underneath an avalanche of misfortune in the fourth quarter — one in which it had four turnovers and relinquished 25 points — St. Francis' football season came to a conclusion after a 49-28 loss at Friedman Field against second-seeded Arroyo Grande.

"The wheels just absolutely fell off in the fourth quarter," said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds, whose team entered the final stanza with a 28-24 lead after scoring 14 straight points to open the second half.

But after an Arroyo Grande field goal drew the game within one, the Golden Knights' final four possessions ended in turnovers — with three leading to scores, two coming directly on the takeaways and the last leading to a couple of kneel downs to seal the game.

"Just mistakes," said senior linebacker/receiver Ryan McAleenan of what swung the game in the end. "Mistakes got us."

St. Francis (9-3), which was looking to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2005, saw Arroyo Grande (11-1), win its 11th straight game amid a flurry of momentum started when Garrett Owens returned a Jared Lebowitz interception 31 yards along the far sideline for the go-ahead score with 8:49 to play in the game.

On the very next drive, Lebowitz was sacked and stripped by Seth Jacobs, who returned the fumble 56 yards with 5:19 remaining to go up, 42-28.

Then on the very next St. Francis play from scrimmage, Arroyo Grande notched an interception that led to a 32-yard scoring drive and an insurmountable 49-28 advantage with 2:58 to play.

"It was like slow motion," said Bonds of the disastrous ¿ turn of events. "That's just too well-coached of a football team to make those mistakes."

Lebowitz was very much emblematic of his team on Friday, as he shined bright at times, but also struggled. He finished the day with 282 yards passing, completing 20 of 35 passes for three touchdowns and three interceptions. He also ran for 39 yards and a score in seven carries and lost a fumble. Thus, in all, he had four total touchdowns and four total turnovers.

"I feel bad for Jared," Bonds said. "I'm sure he's feeling there's a lot of this on his shoulders, but there's a lot you don't see with the naked eye."

It was Lebowitz who led a comeback charge at the second half's onset.

"We made adjustments," said McAleenan of what changed in the third quarter following a subpar second quarter. "We came out knowing what was on the line."

Keyed by a crucial eight-yard completion to McAleenan on a fourth-and-six play, Lebowitz orchestrated a 13-play drive that culminated with a beautiful leaping catch in the back of the end zone by Travis Talianko to cut the Arroyo Grande lead to 24-21 with 6:15 to play in the third. Talianko finished with six catches for 57 yards.

Fellow senior Austin De Los Santos finished with 101 yards rushing in 21 carries and became the first Golden Knights rusher to eclipse 1,000 yards since Dietrich Riley in 2008.

De Los Santos carried four times for 31 yards in a 53-yard scoring drive that ended with a Lebowitz one-yard sneak to push the Golden Knights to a 28-24 lead with 3:05 to play in the third quarter.

Of course, that's when things began to swing the way of Arroyo Grande, much as they did in the first half.

In spectacular fashion, Christian Hess, who had three catches for 86 yards, caught a perfect Lebowitz pass, splitting two defenders and racing 80 yards untouched for a a touchdown that, for all intents and purposes, put a close to offensively chaotic first quarter.

Hess' score put St. Francis ahead, 14-9, late in the opening frame — one in which the teams combined for 334 total yards and scored on all four of the quarter's possessions.

The scoring opened with a 50-yard field goal for Arroyo Grande by Owens.St. Francis followed with a nine-play, 80-yard scoring march, highlighted by a 31-yard completion to McAleenan, as Lebowitz was three for three for 49 yards on the drive, which finished with a seven-yard play-action pass to Gordon Grbavac.

Arroyo Grande rebounded to go back ahead, 9-7, before Hess scored on the ensuing drive.

Thereafter, Arroyo Grande went back ahead, 17-14, early in the second quarter to score on the fifth straight possession between the two teams.

St. Francis stumbled offensively throughout the second quarter, which ended with a missed 30-yard field goal on a drive that followed an Arroyo Grande score.

Making the setback all the more difficult was the fact that St. Francis loses an overwhelming group of seniors, who started in 20 of 22 positions at the beginning of the season, including a handful of three-year starters.

"They were a phenomenal class and they know how we feel about them as a coaching staff," Bonds said. "Just a great group of kids that I'm gonna miss dearly."

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