GARDENA — An opening 24 minutes of big plays and even bigger aspirations succumbed to a second half of frustration and ultimate disappointment for the St. Francis High football team.
The Golden Knights surrendered 28 straight points, including the only two touchdowns of the second half in falling short of a monumental upset versus host Gardena Serra, 35-21, on Friday evening in a Mission League and CIF Southern Section Western Division showdown.
With the victory, Western Division top-ranked Serra (9-0, 4-0 in league), which entered the game ranked No. 6 in the nation according to both calpreps.com and maxpreps.com, clinched a share of the Mission League championship.
Western Division No. 3 St. Francis fell to 8-1 overall and 3-1 in league with another big clash with second-ranked Chaminade (7-2, 3-1) looming next week.
“At this point, it’s hard to talk about moral victories. We came here for a ninth win and didn’t get,” St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said. “I’m proud of my guys because nobody really gave them a chance and they battled.
“Serra just made a few adjustments in the second half and they put some pressure on us. They’re a great team and they got the win.”
The Golden Knights tallied 289 yards of offense, 17 first downs and three touchdowns in the first half.
That was in contrast to 68 yards, six first downs and no scores in the second half, which was due to an impressive pass rush for the Cavaliers, led by three sacks from Rasheem Green.
Overall, Serra recorded eight sacks of Golden Knights quarterback Ty Gangi, who completed 18 of 36 passes for 289 yards and one touchdown, but who was held to two yards on 16 carries because of those sacks, which were a season-high given up by St. Francis.
“They put a lot of pressure on us and we didn’t make as good of adjustment as Serra did,” Gangi said. “I thought we had them.”
Serra quarterback Jalen Greene (10 for 20 for 236 yards and three touchdowns) scored the game-winning touchdown on a simple keeper on a third and inches that turned into a 51-yard touchdown sprint as Greene broke containment at the line of scrimmage and found daylight.
The touchdown, coupled with the subsequent extra point, gave Serra its first advantage since the first quarter at 28-21 with 11:51 remaining in the fourth.
St. Francis took over at its 35 on the next drive and advanced to the Serra 32 with a second and five awaiting it.
Yet, the Golden Knights didn’t pick up the needed five yards as Gangi was flushed from the pocket on three straight downs, which resulted in incompletions and a turnover on downs.
Two plays later, Greene connected on a 67-yard touchdown pass play to senior star receiver Adoree Jackson that put the Cavaliers ahead, 35-21, with 9:44 remaining.
St. Francis had one last chance and drove to the Cavaliers’ 10.
However, Gangi was sacked on third down and was pulled down from behind on a fourth and goal at the 10 with exactly three minutes left to force another turnover on downs.
“Hey, there were no surprises as far as I’m concerned,” Serra Coach Scott Altenberg said. “We knew St. Francis was a good team and very capable of winning today’s game. We knew we’d have to switch things up at halftime or they were going to win this game.”
Both the Golden Knights and Cavaliers put on an offensive show in a first half that ended in a 21-21 tie.
St. Francis took a 21-7 advantage on a one-yard plunge from Gangi with 9:42 remaining in the second quarter.
The score was one of three consecutive for St. Francis, which knotted the game at 7 on a two-yard touchdown run from Zach Washington with 6:10 left in the first set up on a 53-yard bomb from Gangi to receiver Dylan Crawford (six catches for 119 yards).
“We tried to simulate Serra’s athleticism and it was hard to do,” Crawford said.
Shortly after the score, Golden Knights senior defensive back Kevin Maloof popped Greene from behind after a 14-yard scamper that caused a fumble.
Sophomore defensive back Areg Nazarian recovered at the Serra 44 with 4:16 left in the first quarter.
St. Francis took advantage of the turnover when Gangi hit junior tight end Brodie Felkel on a 12-yard touchdown with 2:31 left in the first which, after a point after from Kareem Zeenni, gave the Golden Knights their first lead at 14-7.
The Cavaliers eventually roared back with a nine-yard touchdown run by Greene with 5:28 left in the second and a 13-yard scoring pass from Greene to Gregory Webb with 2:44 left.
The Golden Knights didn’t help their cause on their last two drives, first with a trick play that resulted in an interception from Jackson.
After the Cavaliers knotted the score, St. Francis drove to the Serra eight and momentarily took the lead on a 25-yard field goal from Zeenni with 33 seconds left.
Zeenni, however, was drilled after the make, which resulted in a roughing the kicker call and first down.
The penalty was a curse, as the Golden Knights backtracked 20 yards on a false start and three consecutive sacks, which drained the clock and didn’t allow St. Francis another field goal try.