The Mira Costa Mustangs came to town last Friday night with some outstanding horses, but offensive miscues and a tenacious Golden Knights' defense sent them packing with a 20-14 CIF Southern Section Division III quarterfinals loss.
The Golden Knights' defense forced three Mira Costa turnovers, all of which the St. Francis offense converted into touchdowns.
Tomorrow (Friday), the Golden Knights will host three-time defending CIF Champs Sherman Oaks Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m. at Friedman Field in semifinal CIF action. The 12-0 Knights of Notre Dame defeated Muir, 35-10, last week.
The Golden Knights' defense played an outstanding game. The Mustangs were able to put together sustained drives only twice -- early in the first quarter and late in the fourth.
For much of the game, the Mira Costa offense could make little headway against an opportunistic and aggressive St. Francis defense that kept the Mustangs firmly in check.
Linebacker Anthony Lopez led the team in tackles. Linebacker Kevin Mack had three tackles for losses. Defensive end Bryan Lynch pressed the Mustangs' quarterback into tossing two interceptions while Alex Bonifer had two sacks. Defensive tackle Wendel Roth-Strong had a tackle for a loss and batted-down a pass early in the second quarter to thwart a Mustangs' drive.
In the defensive backfield, Austin Heyworth and Denis Smith each had an interception, and Ray McDonough recovered a fumble on a punt.
St. Francis quarterback Luke Collis again led the offense. He hit 17 of his 30 passing attempts for more than 250 yards including a touchdown pass to tight end Conor Hogan who had a banner night with six receptions for 62 yards. Wide receiver Ray McDonough had five receptions for 65 yards, while wide out Scott Stephens had three catches for 38 yards, including an acrobatic grab in the first quarter.
Lopez was again the workhorse for the St. Francis ground attack, carrying 22 times for 83 yards including two TDs.
St. Francis won the toss to receive the opening kickoff, but elected to defer to the second half. Sean McGuinness' kick sailed into the end zone, and the Mustangs took over at their 20-yard line. Mira Costa, led by quarterback Kevin Romero and running back Charlie Wolfgramm, marched 80 yards for the first score of the game when Romero connected with Will Bullock on an 19-yard TD pass. A successful point after attempt by Greg Geib put the Mustangs up, 7-0.
The Golden Knights then answered with a long drive of their own after McDonough took the kickoff 18 yards to the St. Francis 20-yard line. From there, Collis connected on short passes to wide receivers Stephens and McDonough, as well as to Lopez.
Workhorse Lopez also rushed for more than 20 yards, but the key play in the Knights' opening drive was a great leaping catch by Stephens to give the Golden Knights a first down at the Mustangs' 11-yard line. After Lopez moved the ball to the three-yard line, the Mustangs' defense stiffened and St. Francis was unable to convert on fourth down and short.
At the beginning of the second quarter, the Mustangs' offense took over at the Mira Costa three-yard line. The Golden Knights' defense, however, rose to the occasion. Linebacker Mack had a two-yard sack and tackle Roth-Strong batted down a pass.
On second down from the Mustangs' 47-yard line, a strong rush forced an errant pass by Romero that was intercepted by defensive back Heyworth at the St. Francis 47-yard line. After Lopez drove for five yards, Collis hit Mark Rivadeneyra for a nine-yard gain and then found McDonough for a 12-yarder.
With a first down at the Mira Costa 15-yard line, Lopez took the handoff, and behind the offensive line of Guards Darryl Carter and Lynch, tackles Roth-Strong and Andrew Roxas, center John Schachtner and tight end Hogan, broke through for a 15-yard score. Neil Favor added the extra point and the Golden Knights were tied, 7-7.
Mira Costa returned the ensuing kickoff for an apparent TD, but an illegal block in the back brought the ball back to the Mustangs' nine-yard line. The St. Francis defense held the Mustangs inside their 20-yard line to force a punt.
The Golden Knights took possession at their own 40-yard line, but were unable to convert on third-and-short at midfield. Collis' short punt was fielded near the Mira Costa 30-yard line, where McDonough stripped the ball and recovered the fumble. St. Francis took quick advantage of the Mustangs' miscue.
Collis connected with Hogan for a four-yard and a nine-yard gain. Collis then found McDonough for a 14-yard gain to the Mustangs' five-yard line. Collis then found Hogan again for a five-yard score. Favor added the extra point and the Knights were up 14-7 with 27 seconds left in the first half.
Defensive end Bonifer ended the half -- and the Mustangs' chances for a tie - with a sack of Romero at the 41-yard line as time expired.
In the third quarter, the Golden Knights began a drive deep in their own territory. They were able to move from the 13-yard line to the 39-yard line, but they turned the ball over to the Mustangs on a fumble on the St. Francis 40-yard line.
Mira Costa was, however, unable to capitalize on the Golden Knights' mistake. On the next play, as the defensive line closed in around him, Romero tossed a hurried pass that was intercepted by defensive back Smith at the St. Francis 26-yard line. Two plays later, Collis hit flanker Dan Senteno over the middle who broke free and raced 66 yards through a herd of Mustangs to the Mira Costa three-yard line.
With six minutes left in the third quarter, Lopez bulled his way into the end zone for his second score of the game. The extra point was wide left, but the Golden Knights were now ahead, 20-7.
The Mustangs tried to rally, moving the ball to midfield, but were held on downs when they failed to convert on fourth and short. After another exchange of punts, St. Francis took over at the Mustangs' 48-yard line.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Golden Knights were moving downfield, looking to put the game out of reach. Collis hit Hogan for a 22-yard gain down to the Mira Costa 25-yard line. Two plays later, Collis found McDonough at the Mustangs' 10-yard line.
It appeared that the St. Francis was going to punch it into the end zone, but a great interception by Bullock gave the Mustangs the ball at the nine-yard line with six minute left in the game. Romero led the Mustangs back downfield, driving 91 yards for a score to bring Mira Costa to within six points at 20-14.
After St. Francis was unable to move the ball, the Mustangs took over at the Golden Knights' 47-yard line with less than three minutes to play.
The Mustangs moved the ball to the St. Francis 30-yard line, but on second down, Romero was forced out of the pocket and unable to get out of bounds. The Mustangs, who were out of time outs, were unable to stop the clock and failed to run another play before time expired.