LA CAÑADA — In a season so far characterized by dominance, the St. Francis High football team has certainly put forth more spectacular performances than it did on Friday night.
However, St. Francis still could not have asked for a more impressive start to the season than the undefeated one it continued, as Golden Knights senior running back Joe Mudie rushed for 183 yards and two long touchdowns in 15 carries to highlight a 31-21 Mission League victory over visiting Cathedral at Friedman Field.
“They came out and we were expecting different things. We adjusted and we did our best and that’s all you can ask. … We executed when we needed to,” said Mudie, whose Golden Knights, ranked fourth in the CIF Southern Section Western Division and 38th in the state by Maxpreps, improved to 7-0 and 2-0 in league. “We’re happy with this win, we’re 7-0, 2-0 in league.”
Mudie, behind the left side of center Trevor Provencio, guard Austin Finton and tackle Joe Loubier both times, sprinted to scoring runs of 78 and 68 yards. The former gave St. Francis a 10-0 second-quarter lead that surged to 17-0 before Cathedral (5-2, 0-2 in league), ranked sixth in the division, cut the score to 17-14 with 6:04 to go in the third quarter.
On the following St. Francis drive, needing to shrug off its lackluster run of play, Mudie burst through the line on second and eight and ran 67 yards for a game-changing touchdown, twisting through a would-be tackler at the next level and never slowing thereafter.
“That was a huge momentum shift right there. We go three-and-out in that drive, they have a lot of momentum,” St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said. “Joe hit the crease, I think untouched. It was great to see him accelerate into the secondary, he’s got a second gear that’s fun to see.”
Cathedral went three-and-out on its ensuing drive, capped by a huge pass break-up on third and six by Golden Knights cornerback Avery Williams.
St. Francis took over and marched 71 yards on 12 plays, chewing up 5:36 of clock before scoring when quarterback Ty Gangi (13 for 24, 124 yards) ran a play-action, rolled right and threw back left to a wide-open John Carroll for a 12-yard score.
With a 31-14 lead and 10:25 to play, St. Francis allowed Cathedral to hang around when it scored on the ensuing drive, but the Golden Knights milked the clock before forcing a pair of consecutive Phantom incompletions to end Cathedral’s final offensive drive.
“We gotta give credit to Cathedral,” Bonds said. “That’s a good football team, they have some good players and they had a great scheme.”
The 10-point margin of victory was the slimmest yet for the Golden Knights, who had won their first six games by an average of 33 points.
Things looked relatively on track at the onset, as the Golden Knights scored on their first two drives of the game.
Kareem Zeenni connected on a 42-yard field for a 3-0 lead with two minutes to go in the first quarter. Zeenni turned in an excellent night in addition to the field goal, converting on all four point-after attempts and sending five of six kickoffs into the end zone, coming up short only once due to a 15-yard penalty.
On the first play of St. Francis’ second drive, Mudie burst up the gut out of a shotgun set and ran 78 yards untouched en route to a 10-0 lead with 11:38 to play.
Just 10 seconds later, St. Francis defensive end Brodie Felkel recovered a fumble in the end zone, as the Golden Knights went up, 17-0. The play started with a Marko Tinoco four-yard tackle for a loss and a Tinoco forced fumble that was batted around and rolled to the back of the end zone where Felkel recovered it.
St. Francis’ offense sputtered to end the half, though.
A Gangi interception was returned 54 yards by Ladarius Wiley to cut the lead to 17-7.
The final momentum shift would obviously rest with St. Francis and the fleet feet of Mudie, who also had five catches for 73 yards.
Next up will be another top-10 league foe in Harvard-Westlake.
For now, Bonds and Co. are happy with the program’s first 7-0 start since 2005.
“Seven and 0 and 2-0 in league, I think we gotta feel pretty good,” Bonds said. “This team, the chemistry, the brotherhood, the love they have for one another is just something to see. It makes it fun to coach.”