LA CAÑADA — When St. Francis High quarterback Ty Gangi let fly on a 36-yard pass into the end zone, his Golden Knights were down by a touchdown.
When Golden Knights receiver Dylan Crawford cradled the beautiful scoring catch, St. Francis was just an extra point away from tying the game.
While the play only served to tie Friday night's game, in retrospect it was very much the beginning of the end for fourth-seeded Camarillo
The spectacular play brought the St. Francis faithful to its feet, swung the momentum firmly in favor of the Golden Knights and began a 28-point run that ended with St. Francis in the semifinals after a 42-21 win over the visiting Scorpions in a CIF Southern Section Western Division quarterfinal game at a packed Friedman Field.
"It's amazing. All that hard work's paying off," said St. Francis tight end/defensive lineman John Carroll, who had two sacks, forced a fumble and caught four balls for 89 yards. "It's amazing. Words can't describe it."
The win was keyed by stellar performances from quarterback Ty Gangi, running back Joe Mudie and an all-around staunch defensive effort.
Gangi was 12 for 22 for 249 yards passing with the touchdown to Crawford (four catches for 57 yards) and added 81 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in 12 carries.
Mudie had three touchdowns and 146 yards rushing in 22 carries, adding a pair of catches for 39 yards.
"It's amazing," said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds, whose team improved to 10-2 with the win over Camarillo (10-2). "It's been a while."
It's been since 2005, in fact, when the Golden Knights last advanced to the semifinals. They faced then-Mission League rival Sherman Oaks Notre Dame for a second time. This time around, St. Francis will once again face the Mission League champion in a rematch when it hosts Gardena Serra, which defeated St. Francis, 35-21, on Nov. 1. Serra, the No. 1 seed, trounced Buena on Friday, 40-6.
"It's just a great feeling and a good win," Gangi said. "We just gotta clean up all our mistakes and come out hard next week and try to get a win."
Trailing, 21-14, during what had been a subpar first half for the Golden Knights, Gangi and the offense took over with 1:08 to go from their own 20. With Gangi going three for three for 50 yards on the drive, the Golden Knights drove down and scored with just 14 seconds left in the half. The drive ended with a stupendous Crawford touchdown in which Gangi lobbed a pass and Crawford jumped above his defender, reached over and cradled the touchdown, securing it on the way to the ground.
"We knew that we had a mismatch with Dylan," Gangi said. "We just sent him deep and the line gave me plenty of time to throw, so I was able to give him a chance and he made a great, spectacular catch."
Tied at 21 at the half, St. Francis kicked off, held Camarillo to a three-and-out and then methodically marched 65 yards, all on runs, before a Gangi sneak gave the Golden Knights their first lead of the game with 7:39 to go in the third quarter.
"It's a huge upswing in momentum for us and it's a huge deflator for them," Bonds said of the Crawford catch. "Then we come out in the second half and [hold them]. Then we just went right down and scored. That was a huge sequence."
Mudie scored from four yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 35-21 advantage and on the ensuing drive, St. Francis defensive lineman Don Pontrelli recovered his second fumble of the game.
The Golden Knights took over on the Camarillo 26, drew a pass interference call and then handed off to Mudie again, who went right, turned completely around, almost running a button-hook in the backfield to reverse his field and ran untouched for a 13-yard score that essentially salted the game away even with 10:18 still to play.
The St. Francis defense was indeed golden, holding a prolific Scorpions offense that came in averaging 36 points a game to just 202 total yards. The Golden Knights tallied seven sacks with two each from Carroll, Marko Tinoco and James Membrano.
"We were working all week on our pass rush," Carroll said. "We knew it was gonna be a big factor."
St. Francis was coming off a 45-28 win over Culver City that was very much a mirror image of Friday's game, as the Golden Knights looked to be the better team, but waited until a late second-quarter rally and a second-half scoring blitz to show it.
"We knew we didn't play Golden Knight football [in the first half]," Carroll said. "We put a full game together, we're gonna be dangerous."
St. Francis turned the ball over three times in the first quarter and at one point trailed, 7-0, despite not giving up a first down and holding Camarillo to negative four yards.
After the Scorpions scored on a 74-yard fumble recovery for a score, St. Francis would counter with a Mudie eight-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds left in the first.
Camarillo scored on the first drive of the second stanza for a 14-7 lead.
St. Francis came back with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that took 5:23 and concluded with Gangi running eight yards untouched to tie it at 14-14 with 3:14 to go in the half.
Camarillo came right back to score on a 53-yard pass play from quarterback Geron Rogers (19 for 35 for 219 yards) to Tyler Waid on a blown coverage.
But that set the tone for St. Francis' retort, Gangi's pass and Crawford's catch. And after that, it was all Golden Knights.
"It's the second week in a row we shut out a playoff team in the second half," Bonds said.
And that performance will have the Golden Knights back at Friedman Field for the semifinals.