LOS ANGELES — The late stages of Mission League games have often gone badly for the St. Francis High soccer team this season and the second half of Wednesday's league and regular-season finale at Loyola may have been the unkindest cut of all.
Despite having seen some winnable games turn to ties on late goals this season, the Golden Knights entered Wednesday's match two points behind the Cubs for first place and could have locked up the outright league title with a win and some help. Although Loyola had gotten the better of St. Francis both in terms of its own chances and denying the Golden Knights' offense any good opportunities over the first 60 minutes, the game remained scoreless.
That was until a disastrous sequence that saw St. Francis lose one of its own, sophomore forward Frankie Viega, to a serious injury and give up the game-winning goal all in a span of five minutes to fall, 1-0, its first loss in its last 10 matches.
St. Francis (7-8-8, 6-2-4 in league) fell to second place with the loss, and less than two hours later slipped all the way down to third when Harvard-Westlake defeated Alemany, 2-0, to leapfrog the Golden Knights with a final league mark of 8-3-1. St. Francis was spared further freefall when Chaminade, which rallied to tie St. Francis, 1-1, in the last three minutes on Monday, tied Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, 1-1, on Wednesday. Had Chaminade (5-2-5 in league) won that game, the Eagles and Golden Knights would have been tied for third place with the loser of a pending coin flip taking fourth.
"We've been fourth [in league] before and won big games [in the playoffs], so it's not new to us," St. Francis Coach Glen Appels said. "We're going to get a chance to make sure this isn't our last game."
It looked quite sure to be the last game of the season for Viega, who was carted off the field in the 64th minute with what Appels speculated to be a broken collarbone after taking a lowered shoulder from behind from the Cubs' Adam Goldfaden near the Knights' goal box as goalkeeper Luca Coppola was scooping up the ball.
"We were concerned in the first half, we thought there were a couple of shots that were high that the referee warned people about," Appels said. "We were concerned it could get somebody hurt, and somebody got hurt."
There was no card or rebuke from the referee on the play, much to the frustration of Appels, and play continued after a brief stoppage. Within a minute of the resumption of play, Loyola was on the attack. The Cubs (19-4-5, 8-1-3) were set up with a corner kick by Harrison Nichols to Henry Herrill, who took the mid-air pass straight into the goal for a 1-0 lead with 13 minutes plus some injury time left.
"It's hard to tell with high school kids, but of course seeing one of your buddies carted off the field puts your mind somewhere else for a few minutes," Appels said. "It's not an excuse. They need to be ready to play again when the whistle blows. Loyola was."
St. Francis was held without a shot for the first 30 minutes of the second half, but got a few opportunities to put in an equalizer late. With 10 minutes left, Billy Abdallah sent a ball up through the middle into the box for Reed Izumi, whose shot was wide left.
Eric Bocanegra had a similar chance off a pass from Thomas Banks with six minutes left, but waited a split-second too long to launch a shot and was stopped by Loyola's challenging goalie.
Then the Golden Knights had two set opportunities during injury time, a 15-yard free kick by Bocanegra that was saved on one sharp hop and corner kick by Bocanegra that was cleared out as the final whistle blew.