LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — With what had been a lopsided Mission League match having reverted into a tightly played contest, St. Francis High's Billy McCreary gave it a little extra.
And it was that little extra that led to a game-clinching goal, as McCreary found the back of the net twice, including the clincher with just less than eight minutes remaining in the Golden Knights' 3-1 league win over Alemany on Friday evening at Friedman Field.
"It's the effort is what it is," said McCreary, who's on the heels of an All-CIF football season, as he played cornerback, kicker and punter for the Golden Knights. "The play where you give that little extra and get that touch, that's the goal you're gonna remember.
"That's what the coaches are telling us every practice is it's all about the effort."
And that's exactly what Golden Knights Coach Glen Appels was telling McCreary on Friday.
"It was ironic, cause we were telling him all game to go hard," Appels said. "The time he worked hard he got that goal."
With Alemany bringing the ball up, McCreary was seemingly removed from the play, but sprinted onto it as a Warriors defender was pushing the play rather slowly. McCreary stole the ball roughly around the 40-yard line on Alemany's side of the field. He sprinted past two defenders on the right side and dribbled through another before creating space and taking a hard low shot that found the net and propelled the Golden Knights into second place in league.
Entering Friday, St. Francis (6-7-7, 5-1-3) was firmly entrenched in third, but left the game having moved into a second-place tie with Loyola (5-1-3 in league), which lost to Chaminade (3-2-2 in league) on Friday. All three teams are trailing first-place Harvard-Westlake (6-1-1).
St. Francis, which went 2-0-1 this week, has three games remaining.
"That's a good week for us," said Appels, whose team has won two straight. "Three games to go and we're still in the thick of things."
St. Francis hasn't lost since its league opener against Harvard-Westlake on Jan. 4. Since then, it's unbeaten in its last 8, going 5-0-3. However, there was a recent string of three consecutive 2-2 ties.
Thus, after having controlled the tempo and taken a 2-0 lead early in the second half, when Alemany's Alex Jaramillo headed in a Cody Merchan throw-in to cut the lead in half with 15:30 remaining, things got precarious in a hurry.
"They had some pressure on us, too, it wasn't just the goal," said Appels, whose team allowed nine second-half shots after just two in the opening half. "We hadn't really let them get any pressure in the first half."
Hence, McCreary's goal couldn't have come at a bigger time. The senior forward scored the game's first and last goals.
In the 31st minute, senior midfielder Austin Frank turned a steal in the Alemany end into a small pass to sophomore forward Frankie Viega, who passed the ball from the center of the field to the left side, where a streaking McCreary booted in a 1-0 lead.
The score stayed that way at halftime, as St. Francis held an 11-2 shot advantage, having controlled possession, put together a bevy of scoring chances and used the defensive play from the backline of Luke Hatanaka, Billy Abdallah, Thomas Banks and Raphael Menedez to stymie the Warriors' long-ball game.
"Honestly, it was all our defense," McCreary said. "Our defense out played them."
St. Francis went up, 2-0, early in the second half when shoddy passing by the Alemany backline was taken advantage of by senior Matt Laterza, who stole possession and immediately found himself in a one-on-one situation that he promptly converted into a goal.
"Matt creates a lot of things for us," said Appels, who used Laterza sparingly due to an injury. "He got one look today and he scored a goal."
Despite plenty of chances created on their own, all three of the Golden Knights' tallies came off of Alemany giving up the ball in its own end.
"On the positive side, we had chances to score four or five," Appels said.
Bottom line for St. Francis, though, is that it's still in the race for a top spot in league and riding some winning momentum.
"We found a way to finish it off," Appels said. "A two-goal win in the Mission League is good on any day."