NORTH HOLLYWOOD — With a victory needed to clinch an automatic playoff berth, the St. Francis High football team left nothing to chance and wasted no time in determining its own fate.
On the strength of a 24-point first half and scoring on its first six drives overall, the Golden Knights trumped host Harvard-Westlake, 34-14, Friday night in both team's Mission League finale.
"It couldn't have come at a better time," said St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds of his team's performance, which put the Golden Knights at 6-4 and 3-2 in league and clinched a postseason berth that will be unveiled with Sunday's CIF Southern Section Western Division pairings. "Just our execution and coming out ready to play [was great]."
The win over Harvard-Westlake (2-7-1, 0-5) was also the Golden Knights' third in a row, as they completed the necessary turnaround to get into the postseason a after a previous four-game skid.
"It feels great," said Nelson, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 224 yards and a score, all in the first half. "We've been in the playoffs for the last three weeks."
The 24-point first half also allowed for an abbreviated night for many of the St. Francis starters, including Nelson, Travis Talianko, who had five catches for 82 yards, and Austin De Los Santos, who had 15 carries for 81 yards and a score.
"It was close to perfect," said Bonds of the game, in which St. Francis outgained Harvard-Westlake, 421-160. "It was exactly what the doctor ordered."
St. Francis set a tone of dominance from the start. The Golden Knights marched 80 yards in 16 plays on a methodical game-opening drive, taking seven minutes and fifty-eight seconds off the clock. De Los Santos, who carried nine times for 46 yards on the drive, ended the march with a six-yard run to make it 7-0.
In the first half, the junior back had 89 yards of total offense.
A one-yard, second-quarter plunge by fullback Luke Anderson made it 14-0 before St. Francis showed its quick-strike ability.
Nelson hit Richie Maloof for a 54-yard score with two minutes left in the half to end an abbreviated five-play drive.
Still, St. Francis wasn't done, as Ian Sternau booted a 48-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
"In the past, we've been a second-half team," Nelson said. "Today we definitely came out and were a full-game team."
In the second half, Ryan Jenkins added a 25-yard scoring run out of the Golden Knights' Wildcat set, while Sternau added a 28-yard field goal to make it 34-0 late in the third quarter.
"Now we're going [into the postseason] with a three-game winning streak with some momentum," Bonds said. "This is nice."