LA CAÑADA — A 30-yard heave into the end zone from St. Francis High quarterback Ty Gangi to receiver John Carroll thrown into double coverage fell incomplete with just over a second remaining on a fourth and five, which ended a brilliant season and a colossal upset bid Friday night.
With the turnover on downs, visiting Mission League champion Serra, ranked No. 6 in the nation by Calpreps.com, survived and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Western Division title game via 22-14 semifinal victory at Friedman Field.
“We gave everything we had and it just wasn’t enough,” said St. Francis sophomore receiver Dylan Crawford, who hauled in four catches for 62 yards. “It’s tough to go out this way.”
The Golden Knights (10-3) had advanced to their first divisional semifinal since 2005 and pushed the Cavaliers (13-0) for a second time this season. Top-ranked Serra will face No. 2 Chaminade in next week’s final.
The contest appeared over when Cavaliers junior running back Darrion Naylor (27 carries for 141 yards and one touchdown) punched in a six-yard score with 40.4 seconds remaining to give the visitors a 22-14 advantage.
Yet, the Golden Knights blocked the ensuing extra-point try and then advanced from their 34 to the Cavaliers’ 30 with 8.5 seconds remaining thanks in part to a 31-yard pass play from Gangi (13 for 29 for 144 yards and one touchdown) to Crawford.
St. Francis’ final tying attempt seemed remote after Serra’s Glen Ihenacho sacked Gangi, the final of four sacks by Serra, with 8:47 left in the game to give the Cavaliers a 16-7 advantage.
The Golden Knights didn’t buckle, though, instead relying on their stout defense to hold Serra to minus-seven yards on its next possession and a punt.
St. Francis’ offense, which hadn’t picked up a first down in five previous second-half possessions, came to life with an 11-play, 69-yard drive capped on a nine-yard floater into the end zone from Gangi to Carroll with 4:04 remaining which, after a point after, brought St. Francis within 16-14.
The touchdown stopped a 16-0 second-half run for Serra, which tied the game at 7 on a three-yard rushing touchdown from quarterback Jalen Greene (25 carries for 193 yards and two touchdowns) with 10:09 left in the third.
While Greene was held to nine-of-20 passing for 88 yards and three interceptions, his fleet feet proved the difference as he again scored on a 21-yard scamper that gave Serra its first lead at 14-7 with 1:07 left in the third.
St. Francis led, 7-0, after one half of play highlighted by the Golden Knights’ defense, which picked off Greene three times.
Perhaps the most costly of those interceptions came right before the half, with the Cavaliers marching 49 yards on eight plays to the Golden Knights’ 32 with just over a minute left.
On a second and 10, Greene scrambled right, out of the pocket, before coming back into the tackle box and apparently trying to throw the ball out of play.
Greene’s attempt fell well short of going out of the end zone, however, and was instead picked off by senior linebacker Michael Weber with 1:07 left in the half.
Weber advanced the ball to the three and the Golden Knights bled out the clock.
The interception was the second for Greene within Golden Knights’ territory, as defensive back Avery Williams snagged the second of his two interceptions in the end zone off a Greene deflected pass with 1:52 left in the first quarter.
That interception also stunted what was a productive eight-play, 70-yard drive for Serra.
Williams’ first pick came in the previous possession, when another batted ball ended up in his hands at the Serra 33 with 5:09 left in the first quarter.
“We mixed up on defense and tried to give them something they hadn’t seen,” Williams said. “We played a lot of man to man and that worked.”
To Serra’s credit, though, the Cavaliers didn’t allow a point off the giveaway, instead holding the Golden Knights to five yards and what should have been a 45-yard field goal try from junior kicker Kareem Zeenni.
Yet, the Golden Knights were called for a delay of game, which proved costly when Zeenni’s 50-yard field goal try bounced off the goal post.
St. Francis’ best offensive possession was its first, as the Golden Knights moved the ball 65 yards on 11 plays, capped on a one-yard score from senior running back Joe Mudie with 6:13 left in the first quarter, which put the home team up, 7-0.