Roughly nine weeks away from the opening kickoff of high school football, the annual St. Francis Passing Tournament set down at St. Francis and La Cañada high on Friday.
Though just about every coach is quick to point out summer passing leagues are about getting familiar with schemes and building camaraderie and that wins and losses don't matter all that much, both St. Francis High and Crescenta Valley were in reach of the tournament crown.
And when both came up short, it was clearly disappointing.
"This group is very passionate when they get it going, they get excited," said first-year Falcons Coach Paul Schilling, whose team lost to Royal, 26-18, in a back-and-forth final.
Royal defeated Glendale, 35-24, in the opening round of elimination play before besting St. Francis, 37-21, in the semifinals.
"We have never won this tournament," said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds. "So we kind of built it up like, hey let's win one. So we were a bit disappointed [after the loss]."
Crescenta Valley, which went 5-2 on the day, outlasted Moorpark, 24-15, in the semifinal with Paul Perugini throwing a pair of touchdowns passes to Mauro Lee, quarterback Zak Wilkerson throwing a score to Kevin Fernandez and Nikko Domingo coming up with a huge two-point interception in the end zone.
Against Royal, which defeated CV in pool play, 38-19, a Wilkerson-to-Lee scoring hookup and a subsequent Lee conversion tied the game at 7. CV's defense then came up with a one-point defensive stop before Nick Ruiz made a stellar catch on a Wilkerson toss, leading to a 15-7 score.
Royal would tie the game at 15 before a CV stop put them ahead, 16-15. A crucial Royal interception off a dropped CV pass put the Falcons behind at 17-16. Two more defensive stops were the only points the Falcons could muster.
"I'm happy, though," said Schilling of the overall day, in particular the improvement he saw as the day progresses. "That was a lot of improvement [from the first Royal game to the final]."
The quarterback competition between Wilkerson and Perugini, a St. Francis transfer, also continued to heat up.
"Both Paul and Zak did a nice job," Schilling said.
Schilling also pointed out the defensive efforts of Bryan Luna and Alec Traber for the Falcons, who defeated La Cañada, 30-16, and Pasadena, 32-8, in pool play and defeated Pasadena Poly in the opening round of the playoffs.
St. Francis was coming off a 24-23 sudden-death overtime loss to Poly in its final game of pool play, in which it also defeated Glendale, 32-30, and Moorpark, 26-11.
The Golden Knights bounced back with an emphatic 32-18 win over La Cañada.
Quarterback Brett Nelson threw touchdowns to Ryan Jenkins, Travis Talianko, Christian Hess and Keith Enterante in the game, which also saw Raul Castillo notch a pick.
Against Royal, though, the Golden Knights' offense sputtered at the start and was playing catch-up the rest of the way after falling behind by two scores.
A dazzling acrobatic catch by Talianko along the right sideline of the end zone cut the lead to 20-12, but Moorpark kept answering. Another stellar grab by Talianko across the middle of the end zone cut the lead to 30-20, but Moorpark answered back on the ensuing play to put the game out of reach. Jenkins caught the first of three Nelson scoring throws in the game.
Jenkins, along with Hess and Richie Maloof drew praise from Bonds for going both ways in five games over the course of the day. And he was also impressed with the Nelson-Talianko combo.
"[Talianko's] hands are so soft. He's a precise route runner and he's physical," Bonds said. "I thought Brett had a pretty good day. I was happy with his reads."
Despite touchdown passes from quarterback Scott Gray to Matt Alegria, La Cañada fell behind against St. Francis and saw its day end with a 1-3 mark. Its lone victory came over Pasadena, 29-27.
"The big reason for passing league is to get some competition," said Spartans Coach Dan Yoder. "This is the first real passing league competition we’ve had this summer.
"We’re still in the ironing-things-out phase."
For second-year Coach Alan Eberhart and his Nitros, it was a disappointing overall day as Glendale went 0-4 with losses to St. Francis, Poly, Moorpark and Royal.
"It's the same old thing, we're a team that doesn't know how to win," Eberhart said. "We need to make plays."
Still, one constant for Eberhart is that his team is improving and putting up a fight.
"We battled," he said. "We're competitive. We're playing better teams better.
"Obviously, we've still got things to do, but it was better. I was happy with it."