For as successful as the duration of the St. Francis High football team’s season has been thus far, at the tip of the Golden Knights’ tongues is still very much a bitter taste left by the last two weeks’ losses.
Thus, when St. Francis travels to play host Culver City at 7 p.m. Friday in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Western Division playoffs, the Golden Knights will not only be looking for postseason triumph, but to bounce back from two weeks’ worth of tribulations.
“Obviously, with those two losses, we have a bad taste in our mouth and we want to get it out with a win,” said St. Francis senior defensive back Kevin Maloof of falling against Gardena Serra (35-21) on Nov. 1 and Chaminade (56-35) in the final week of the regular season.
While the playoffs wouldn’t generally be the ideal setting to bounce back, the Golden Knights enter the postseason confident, hungry and embracing the postseason setting that has become a St. Francis tradition.
“It’s always fun when you bring up the [junior varsity] guys and we even brought up a freshman,” said Bonds, whose 4-7 squad lost to Lompoc in the first round last season. “It just adds to the excitement and the playoff atmosphere.
“You have to prove yourself all over again.”
In Culver City (6-4), St. Francis (8-2) will take on the Ocean League champion, which has won five consecutive games, all of them coming during league play.
Offensively, Bonds and Co. believe the Centaurs’ most dangerous attribute is their speed.
“Their team speed as a whole is scary,” said Bonds, whose Knights finished third in the Mission League at 3-2 behind champion Serra, the division’s top seed, and Chaminade, the No. 2 seed.
Culver City likes to throw the ball, having thrown 289 passes on the season to 252 carries, with quarterbacks Armani Rodgers (1,289 yards passing, nine touchdowns) and David Handler (1,006 yards, eight touchdowns) splitting time.
Four Centaurs receivers have 200 yards receiving or more with Marcus Moore having hauled in 31 catches for 550 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Everybody has to pursue to the ball and we can’t take any plays off,” Maloof said. “We can’t allow any big plays.”
Rushing-wise, the team has tallied just 1,228 yards as a whole, with Donovan Davis leading the way with 421 yards and four touchdowns in 55 carries.
“We’ve just got to rally to the football and play good disciplined defense,” Bonds said. “We have played teams that have been extremely athletic. If we just play our disciplined brand of defense then we should be in the right place to make a tackle.”
Indeed, while consecutive losses to Serra and Chaminade have left a sour taste with the Golden Knights, the defeats have also been a learning experience, as St. Francis believes it lost to the two top teams in the division and is, therefore, ready for anything Culver City might bring.
“I think playing Serra and Chaminade, they have some great athletes,” Maloof said. “[Playing Culver City], it’s obviously nothing we haven’t seen before.”
Offensively, St. Francis comes in averaging an eye-popping 41 points a game, with quarterback Ty Gangi, running back Joe Mudie, receiver Dylan Crawford and tight end John Carroll highlighting a contingent that’s been hard to stop.
“I think our offense has been pretty consistent,” Bonds said. “We talked about it as a staff: It might be the most well-rounded offense we’ve had in some time.”
Mudie’s legs have almost matched Culver City’s rushing output, as he’s carried the ball 131 times for 1,063 yards and nine touchdowns. Gangi has thrown for 2,241 yards, 22 touchdowns and run for seven more scores. Crawford has nine touchdown receptions and 790 yards, while Carroll has 557 yards receiving and six scores.
The most important aspect of the St. Francis offense, one could argue, is the offensive line, though. Captained by center Trevor Provencio, St. Francis’ offensive line has been excellent throughout much of the season, particularly the team’s 8-0 start, but has given up 14 sacks over the last two games.
Provencio believes the unit can remedy those ills Friday.
“They’re a 5-2 kind of team, like Monrovia,” Provencio said. “If we pass protect we’re gonna gash them. I think that’s for any game, if we can protect, we can gash them.”
St. Francis, which has been held under 30 points just once, will play either fourth-seeded Camarillo or Santa Ynez in the quarterfinals should it advance and break a two-game playoff losing streak.
Playing on the road for the third straight week, St. Francis would welcome a home game against fourth-seeded Camarillo, but would travel to Santa Ynez. More than anything, though, the Golden Knights are striving to get back to their winning ways.
“It’s definitely more of a motivating factor,” Provencio said of losing the last two weeks. “Now we’re just itching for a win.
“We’re confident, we’re confident every game. If we go out and play better and play Golden Knight football, we’re confident we can come away with a win.”