CULVER CITY — For roughly the first 24 minutes of Friday night's CIF Southern Section Western Division opener, the St. Francis High football team looked every bit like a squad lingering from consecutive losses to end the regular season.
But, according to the Golden Knights, some adjustments and the wake-up call that was a lackluster first half, led them to flipping the switch.
Led by the all-around stellar play of quarterback Ty Gangi, the gutsy running of Joe Mudie and a reinvigorated defense in the second half, the Golden Knights ran off 24 unanswered points in the final 24 minutes to defeat host Culver City, 45-28, in the first round of the playoffs.
"I think it was a little bit of both," said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds of whether it was adjustments or a wake-up call that led to the improved second-half play. "The last two weeks took a toll. You go 8-0 and then you lose two in a row, you lose a little a little bit of your mojo and I think it showed in the first half."
Following losses to Gardena Serra and Chaminade to end Mission League play, St. Francis (9-2), which will now host fourth-seeded Camarillo in the quarterfinals next week, struggled in falling behind, 21-7, against Culver City (6-5), the Ocean League champion which had won five in a row.
But a 13-yard Gangi-to-Brodie Felkel touchdown with 25 seconds remaining in the first half cut the score to 28-21 and began what would be a 31-0 run to end the game for St. Francis.
"The first half was not St. Francis football. We knew we could play better," said Gangi, who was 22 of 32 for 245 yards, a touchdown and an interception. "I'm just proud of my team because they kept fighting."
Gangi added 75 yards and three touchdown runs on 16 carries, highlighted by a 30-yard touchdown run in which he weaved past two Centaurs defensive backs to break the game open at 42-28 with 7:59 remaining.
"To me, it just really looks like the game has slowed down for him," Bonds said. "He's just so calm and cool and poised under pressure. He's been outstanding this year."
It was Mudie who scored the game-winning touchdown, though. After missing much of the second quarter with a bum hamstring, he returned in the third and busted a 60-yard touchdown run with 4:36 to play that put St. Francis up for the first time at 35-28. Mudie would finish with 117 yards in 13 carries and the touchdown.
"If [the trainer] says he can go and he's ready, he's in the game," Bonds said. "He's a difference maker for us. He's just all heart."
The biggest turnaround for the defense, which allowed 28 first-half points and 359 first-half total yards, came with pressure, as St. Francis turned in five sacks for the game.
"Us getting to their quarterback was huge," Bonds said.
St. Francis' Marko Tinoco had three sacks, while John Carroll had a sack, an interception and five catches for 36 yards on offense.
In the second half, on top of the shutout, the Golden Knights allowed just 60 yards of offense.
St. Francis came out looking nothing like the team that had won eight straight to start the season, as it allowed a touchdown on the first drive of the game and then went three-and-out on its first offensive series.
The Golden Knights finally got going on offense when Areg Nazarian ran it in from seven yards out to tie the game at 7 with 1:46 to go in the first quarter.
Big plays haunted the St. Francis defense, though, as they gave up scoring runs of 27 and 62 yards to fall behind, 21-7.
St. Francis finally had an immediate counter by scoring on the ensuing drive of a Centaurs score when Gangi sneaked it in from one yard out to cut the score to 21-14. It came a play after Ross Niederhaus ran 41 yards on an end-around.
But Culver City fired right back with a 74-yard touchdown.
Taking over with 1:43 left in the half, St. Francis began its comeback. The Golden Knights marched 80 yards in seven plays and 1:18, culminating with Gangi's toss to Felkel.
After receiving the second half kickoff, the Golden Knights still sputtered a bit until Gangi hit a wide-open Chris Bayle for a 50-yard gain. Six plays later, Gangi's sneak tied the game at 28 and the momentum was never Culver City's again.