The members of the St. Francis High football team more than held their own during the nonleague portion of their scheduling, going 5-0 and limiting opponents to 6.8 points per game.
Looking to replicate that in the Mission League might be a tall order, though the Golden Knights appear to be up to the challenge.
St. Francis will get its first look at a league opponent when it meets visiting Harvard-Westlake in a league opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Friedman Field. The Golden Knights are ranked No. 4 in the latest CIF Southern Section Western Division poll and one of four league teams earning a top-10 ranking. Harvard-Westlake (4-1) isn't among those squads that's warranted a ranking, but St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds knows better.
"They are just outside of being ranked and we know they are good," said Bonds, whose team posted a 34-14 road win last season against the Wolverines. "From a physical standpoint, it might be a better matchup for us.
"Athletically, it's pretty even. Both teams have a lot of speed and we have our work cut out."
The Golden Knights opened the season with wins against Arcadia, Crescenta Valley, Venice, West Ranch and Paso Robles. The Golden Knights are 3-0 at home and will wrap up a three-game homestand Friday with their homecoming game.
St. Francis senior linebacker Joey Dowling recorded a team-best 12 tackles and two sacks against Paso Robles. Teammates Ryan McAleenan and Luke Anderson each collected eight tackles.
Bonds said he expects Harvard-Westlake, which has recorded intersectional victories against Fairfax, Leuzinger, Sylmar and El Camino Real and a loss against Venice, to continue clinking with its spread offense.
"Our defense will be tested," said Bonds, whose team blanked Crescenta Valley and West Ranch. "They have a lot of guys on offense who can do things.
"We were in a lot of shootouts last year and that hasn't been the case this year. We've been getting a lot of turnovers. We feel like we need to be able to take advantage of that again."
The Golden Knights saw quarterback Jared Lebowitz complete 13 of 23 passes for 132 yards against Paso Robles. Running back Austin De Los Santos rushed for 67 yards in 15 carries and Daniel Kawamura rushed for 60 yards and one touchdown in 11 carries.
Harvard-Westlake got a standout effort from quarterback Chad Kanoff, who completed 25 of 37 passes for 372 yards and four touchdowns en route to a 39-31 home win against El Camino Real. Wide receiver Clinton Hooks caught 11 passes for 102 yards and one touchdown.
The Wolverines also got a game-high 17 tackles from linebacker Alex Cadiff.
"We are a lot healthier this year than last year," said Harvard-Westlake Coach Vic Eumont, whose team is averaging 43 points per game. "We are coming off a game against El Camino Real, which was a big and physical team that's a lot like St. Francis.
"We are going to have our work cut out against St. Francis. It's going to come down to making the fewest mistakes and having a good game plan in place.
"Chad has done a good job getting the ball to everyone. We've had guys in the right spot who have been able to execute well. It's a tough league again and anybody can win it. Anybody can finish last and you are still going to have a good team. It's just about being able to make the right plays at the right time."
Monrovia at La Cañada, 7 p.m. today: The Spartans open up Rio Hondo League play against the Wildcats, the favorite to win their fifth straight league title this year. Monrovia enters league as the sixth-ranked team in the CIF Southern Section Mid-Valley Division polls with a 2-3 record after a tough nonleague schedule.
Monrovia snapped a three-game losing streak with a 40-36 win against Paramount last week. La Cañada (1-4) has also endured a grueling nonleague slate, as four of the five teams it played are also ranked. The Spartans nearly upset No. 4 Arroyo last week, but lost 23-21 at home.
"The whole idea was to beef up the schedule and pay the price early so we are ready to go in league," La Cañada Coach Dan Yoder said after his team's 41-10 loss against top-ranked Maranatha on Sept. 30. "Hopefully, this puts in a position to know what quality opponents look like and we'll be ready for league."
Monrovia cruised through Rio Hondo last year, but ran into its toughest test in La Cañada. The Wildcats still beat the Spartans handily, 34-10, but had beaten their four other league opponents by an average of 48.5 points.
La Cañada has played its last two games without Matt Jones, the team's No. 1 quarterback, after he suffered an injury against Crescenta Valley on Sept. 23. Jones' replacement, Grant Owen, has completed eight of 27 passes for 51 yards while running for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.
Fullback Kyle Herron and tailback Andy Paynter are leading a deep La Cañada backfield. Herron has run for a team-best 193 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries, while Paynter has rushed for 141 yards and two scores on 20 carries.
Offensively, the Wildcats are led by junior quarterback Blake Heyworth, who has completed 50 of 95 passes for 899 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions this year. He's spread the ball around, as four of his receivers have at least 10 catches and two touchdowns this year.
Heyworth is coming off a monster performance, where he completed 22 of 36 passes for 396 yards and six touchdowns against Paramount. Monrovia's running game is led by Marquise Bias, who has racked up 282 yards and a touchdown in 46 carries this year.
The highlight of the Wildcats' defense comes in the form of 6-foot-4, 310 pound defensive end Ellis McCarthy, who has 26 tackles so far this year, and is a blue chip recruit who's fielding scholarship offers from nearly every PAC-12 school.