LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Facing the possibility of suffering its second defeat in three games, the St. Francis High boys' soccer team got a bit of everything from freshman defender Billy Abdallah.
Abdallah stepped up on offense and defense against Crescenta Valley Saturday night, whether he was heading away a would-be Falcons goal or scoring the equalizer in a 1-1 tie at St. Francis.
"Billy is a terrific player," St. Francis Coach Glen Appels said. "He is used to a different level. You ask most 14-year olds to go out and play against a bunch of juniors and seniors in high school and they're scared, but that's not him."
Crescenta Valley Coach Grant Clark felt his team had a good chance at a victory Saturday, after the Falcons out shot the Golden Knights, 14-9, and had several more scoring opportunities, but was still happy with the draw.
"Any time you can get a draw against a Mission League team, it feels good," Clark said.
Abdallah's first game-saving play came in the final 30 minutes of the contest with the Falcons (0-0-2) leading, 1-0. CV's Eric Keshishian played a through ball into St. Francis' box for teammate and reigning All Area Boys' Soccer Player of the Year, Pavle Atanackovic.
Atanackovic was on a break and fired a shot at Golden Knights goalkeeper Luca Coppola, who charged out to meet CV's main offensive threat. The shot was saved off Coppola's face and the rebound went back out into the box and to the feet of the Falcons' Erick Trejo.
Trejo fired a shot that was bound for the net until Abdallah lunged and headed the ball out and away from danger to keep Crescenta Valley's lead at a manageable 1-0.
"I saw Luca go near post so I just set up far post," Abdallah said. "We were down, 1-0, so my instinct was to just keep that ball out of the net at any cost."
With 25 minutes left in the game, Abdallah stepped up on the offensive end when he stole a ball from Crescenta Valley and passed it off to teammate Eric Bocanegra along the left side of the Falcons' box.
Bocanegra gave it back in the box to an undefended Abdallah, who fired a shot into the bottom right corner of the net to knot the score at 1.
"Eric just laid off an amazing ball to me and I just hit it and thankfully it went in," Abdallah said.
Coppola also kept the game close with four saves after he came in to replace senior goalie Paul Dean in the second half. Dean also had four saves of his own in the first 40 minutes.
St. Francis (0-1-2) was kept off the scoreboard, or from getting quality scoring opportunities, in the first 55 minutes of the game thanks to Crescenta Valley's back line, particularly center defender Matthew Bracht. Bracht anchored his line by breaking up several chances and keeping St. Francis' forwards in check all night.
The Golden Knights also found success in forcing someone other than Atanackovic to beat them, after he scored all three goals in the Falcons' season-opening 3-1 victory against St. Francis last year.
"Pavle is no secret and they did a good job of containing him tonight," Clark said. "Of course, he still got his chances. He always finds a way. He is that good."
A smile crept over Appels' face when he talked about keeping Atanackovic out of the net.
"Last year, he hurt us," Appels said. "Pavle is a talented, physical and fast player, and keeping him from scoring a goal tonight was big for us."
Jaehoon Jung scored the Falcons' goal with five minutes remaining in the first half off a beautiful pass from midfielder Alex Berger.
Berger played a through ball into the box to Jung's feet. Jung's first shot went off a defender and then bounced right back to him. He didn't miss on the second chance, firing it underneath a diving Dean to give Crescenta Valley a 1-0 lead at halftime.
"Alex really knows how to set someone up," Jung said. "It was a great ball and I just hit right underneath the goalie."