VALENCIA — A frantic finish for the St. Francis High football team wasn't enough to overcome a stagnant first three quarters.
Plagued by dropped passes, turnovers and often porous defense, the Golden Knights were upset by host West Ranch, 35-34, on Friday night at Valencia High.
"First half was really ugly," said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds, whose team, ranked fourth in the CIF Southern Section Western Division, fell to 3-1. "We stressed about not shooting ourselves in the foot at halftime… and then we turned the ball over three times. It was a different team than we've seen in the first three weeks."
In a game that's start was delayed nearly 45 minutes due to lightning strikes in the area, St. Francis had five dropped passes, including two that were likely touchdowns. It also had two missed field goals, including one from 24 yards out, and three second-half interceptions by quarterback Brett Nelson.
But for all of Nelson's and the Golden Knights' transgressions, they put themselves in place for a possible win.
Nelson, who was 20 for 34 for 412 yards and five touchdowns, hit receiver Ian Hamilton over the middle in front of double coverage with 11 seconds left in the game to cut the score to its final tally. Bonds elected to go for a two-point conversion and Nelson rolled out and overthrew Hamilton, who pleaded, along with Bonds, for a pass interference call as he had been clearly impeded, but the call never came.
"We were struggling stopping them," said Bonds of his decision to go for two. "We figured our defense was tired, let's go ahead and try and win this right there."
West Ranch (3-2) held a 14-7 halftime lead and led, 28-14, going into the fourth quarter. In all, the Wildcats touched up St. Francis for 566 total yards.
"We didn't execute very well on both sides of the ball," Bonds said. "[The Wildcats] fought hard and they brought it to us."
After scoring on its first possession of the game for a 7-0 lead, St. Francis went cold offensively, but caught fire in the fourth quarter with 20 points scored.
An Austin De Los Santos 27-yard touchdown catch tied the game at 28, but West Ranch, having been held scoreless on its previous two drives, scored with 1:14 to go. That set up the Knights' final dramatic drive.
St. Francis' Michael Melnick, who had 73 yards rushing in 10 carries, had a 55-yard scoring catch in the fourth quarter, while Hamilton had seven catches for 108 yards, Travis Talianko had four grabs for 80 yards and two scores and Christian Hess had four catches for 102 yards.