St. Francis football gears up for rematch with Serra

LA CAÑADA — Since the CIF Southern Section Western Division playoffs began two weeks ago, plenty of text messages have been sent to St. Francis High football Coach Jim Bonds.

A majority of them have come from former players and alumni around the country who made a request — make sure the Golden Knights are still in the hunt for a championship during the extended Thanksgiving weekend.

After posting come-from-behind victories during the first two rounds of the postseason, Bonds and Co. have been able to oblige their fervent fan base.

Host St. Francis will make its first appearance in the semifinals since 2005 when it meets top-seeded and defending champion Gardena Serra at 7 p.m. Friday at Friedman Field with the winner advancing to the championship game Dec. 9 against second-seeded Chaminade (11-1) or third-seeded Lompoc (11-1).

"These are really exciting times," said Bonds, who has guided the Golden Knights to four trips to the semifinals since taking over the program in 2000. "I've received a lot of texts from people who have been following us on the Internet or reading about us who have been asking us to get to Thanksgiving weekend so they can come see us play here.

"It's great to be able to play Serra again. Two great teams playing in a great environment."

St. Francis (10-2) finished third in the Mission League behind Serra and Chaminade. It posted a 45-28 win against host Culver City on Nov. 15 before earning a 42-21 quarterfinal home victory against fourth-seeded Camarillo on Friday.

Serra (12-0) has shown its championship pedigree throughout the postseason, cruising to a 48-16 victory against visiting Oxnard Pacifica and then notching a 40-6 road win against Buena.

The Golden Knights and Cavaliers are certainly not strangers to each another. Both teams were undefeated entering their ninth-week matchup on Nov. 1 at Serra, with the Cavaliers rallying for a 35-21 victory.

St. Francis senior quarterback Ty Gangi said the Golden Knights, who are 6-0 at home, will look to take advantage of a rematch against the explosive Cavaliers.

"We've been watching film from that first game with them," said Gangi, who was 12 for 22 for 249 yards passing and one touchdown and rushed for two scores against Camarillo. "We've been able to learn from that game and get better.

"It's been a dream since we were freshmen to get to the semifinals and maybe the championship game. St. Francis is one of the best environments in high school football. We would like to take advantage of being at home."

Gangi completed 18 of 36 passes for 289 yards and one touchdown versus the Cavaliers in the first meeting, but the Golden Knights couldn't hold on to a 21-7 advantage.

The Golden Knights expect to have their hands full against the quick-strike Cavaliers, who are led by Boise State University-bound quarterback Jalen Greene and standout running back Adoree' Jackson. Green completed four of nine passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns and Jackson rushed for 90 yards in four carries and one touchdown against Buena.

Against St. Francis, Greene completed 10 for 20 for 236 yards and three touchdowns. He scored the game-winning touchdown on a 51-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give the Cavaliers a 28-21 lead. Jackson closed out the scoring with a touchdown reception.

"We know what we will be up against because they have so many game breakers," said Bonds, who received four catches for 57 yards and one touchdowns from wide receiver Dylan Crawford against Camarillo "We know we will have to be able to hold on to the ball."

St. Francis safety Kevin Maloof said the Cavaliers are always a threat with the ball.

"They have so many great athletes and lots of speed," Maloof said. "We have to be able to pursue the ball and not take any plays off.

"We are happy to be able to play Serra again. We feel like we didn't finish the job the first time we played them. I feel confident we can do the job this time."

Serra Coach Scott Altenberg, who guided the Cavaliers to a CIF Division II state championship last season, said Serra and St. Francis have developed a budding rivalry that will likely have some added spice to it Friday.

"It's one of the stranger kinds of replays," Altenberg said. "Last year, we saw Chaminade twice and now we see St. Francis twice in a month.

"It's a testament to our league. St. Francis played us tough the last time and we gained even more respect for them. You play for these situations. We know we can't give up the big plays again like we did the first time we played them. They have some excellent players. We like to think we play well on the road. We went down to the San Diego area earlier in the season and played in front of a big crowd. Those kind of games get you ready for a game like this week. It will be a great game."

charles.rich@latimes.com

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