St. Francis, La Cañada football open playoffs on the road

Times have quickly changed from one season to another and from three weeks ago until now for the St. Francis High football team.

Last season at this time, the Golden Knights, having won four games, were happy just to be in the playoffs.

Leading into the 2013 CIF Southern Section Western Division playoffs, there was some talk that the Golden Knights would get one of the bracket’s top four seeds.

However, after winning their first eight games of the year, the Golden Knights dropped consecutive contests to Mission League and division heavyweights Gardena Serra and Chaminade.

Thus, as the Mission League’s third-place squad, St. Francis, upon the release of the playoff pairings on Sunday, will travel to take on Culver City on Friday, while La Cañada, having taken third in the Rio Hondo League, will make the trek north for a Mid-Valley Division opener against fourth-seeded Paraclete.

“I feel pretty good about it,” St. Francis Coach Bonds said of the draw.

Bonds’ Golden Knights (8-2) had been ranked among the top four teams for roughly the last month, so it wasn’t inconceivable that they would remain there after losing to top-ranked Serra, which garnered the No. 1 seed, and Chaminade, which earned the second seed.

“There was some talk that that could happen. I never thought that would happen,” Bonds said. “It worked out pretty much how I thought it would.”

As it works out, St. Francis will take on Culver City at 7 p.m. (both teams agreed on the time change from 7:30). Culver City boasts a 6-4 record after winning the Ocean League with an undefeated 5-0 mark.

While Culver City rides a five-game winning streak, St. Francis is on the heels of two straight losses, but Bonds is confident his team will show its resiliency.

“It was tough playing those teams back to back — I think the top two teams in our division — on the road,” Bonds said. “We’ll be ready. This is a great group, we’ll bounce back. They know this is win-or-go-home time. They’ll be excited.”

If the Golden Knights bounce back, they’ll move into a quarterfinal game against either fourth-seeded Camarillo (9-1) or Los Padres League at-large entry Santa Ynez (4-6).

Having finished third in the Rio Hondo League on the strength of two straight wins over South Pasadena and Temple City to end the regular season, La Cañada (5-5) will tackle Alpha League champion and fourth-seeded Paraclete (6-4), at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Antelope Valley College. The Spartans have previously played and lost to the division’s top two seeds, Monrovia and Arroyo.

For the Spartans, under second-year coach James Sims, it will be their first playoff appearance since 2010. Should they pull off the upset, they would snap a four-game postseason losing streak for the program and notch the first playoff win since 2005.

Sims said the Spartans are ready to face Paraclete.

“We’ve been in playoff mode the last two weeks in that you win or go home,” Sims said. “That experience can only help us now being in the playoffs.

“We feel like we can go in there and play an effective game. We’ve had some injuries with seniors and the younger guys have come in and done a nice job taking their place. Paraclete will be an excellent challenge for us.”

They would then advance to the quarterfinals to play Pomona (9-1) or Rosemead (8-2).

Another local team thought to be headed to the playoffs was Crescenta Valley (8-2), which tied for second in the Pacific League, but by losing a tiebreaker via coin flip was forced to apply for an at-large berth. On Saturday evening, it was announced West Covina (5-5), which tied for third in the Hacienda League, would receive the Southeast Division's lone at-large entry. West Covina, based on the CIF office's formula for determining at-large entries, bested Crescenta Valley by a 3-1 margin. On Sunday, West Covina was sent to play the division's top seed Norwalk.

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