A game may be decided not only by the amount of effort each team shows but also by the amount of mistakes made. On Saturday night, errors plagued St. Francis as Serra hung on to win the CCS Open Division II Championship by a score of 31-30.
With 1:26 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Lancers looked to be in control. After forfeiting 30 yards on two unsportsmanlike conduct calls with 5:00 remaining in the quarter, the Lancers fought their way from midfield back into the red zone. A 19-yard touchdown pass to Evan Williams brought his team within one point of a tie, but the Lancers opted to gamble and settle the score in regulation on a two-point conversion.
While the Lancers certainly held the momentum during the drive, a prolonged injury timeout for Serra safety Isiah Kendrick gave his defense time to regroup. The Lancers went ahead with the two-point attempt, but a fast-approaching defensive line forced quarterback Reed Vettel to scramble out of the pocket and dish a desperation heave to fullback Opeti Fangupo. The pass was incomplete, and an unsuccessful onside kick sealed the Lancers’ fate as they fell to the Padres in the CCS Championships for the second year in a row.
“We had some missed opportunities that we should’ve capitalized on,” said Williams. “We made a lot of little mistakes, and we tried to climb back, but you just gotta give it up to the Padres for sticking with us and hanging on. Lots of respect for them.”
Following the November 10 contest that saw the Padres run away with three touchdowns in the first quarter, many were unsure as to how the Lancers would respond out of the gates. At 10:33 of the first quarter, Serra defensive back Chris Park intercepted an overthrown pass to give his team possession at midfield. However, a three-and-out for the Padres was answered by a 71-yard touchdown run by Darrell Page with 8:01 remaining in the quarter.
“We definitely set the tone,” said Page. “The coaches kept telling us to set the tone, set the tone, and we did, but credit to the Padres for sticking with it.”
At 4:10 of the first quarter, the Padres opted to go on fourth-and-five and earned an encroachment call against the Lancers. Less than a minute later, a 26-yard pass to wide receiver Andres Atkins tied the game at 7-7. With 1:05 remaining in the quarter, the Padres took the lead as a wide-open Chris Park tore down the middle of the field on an 83-yard touchdown reception.
“When St. Francis had momentum, we just had each other’s back,” said Serra kicker Damon Lewis. “It just kept us going.”
Following a Lancer three-and-out, the Padres found themselves stuck in multiple third-and-long situations at the start of the second quarter. However, consistent passing from Luke Bottari to receivers Patrick Nunn, Shane Villaroman, and Park kept the chains moving. At 8:08 of the second quarter, the Padres kept their offense on the field on 4th-and-seven at the Lancer 35; a Villaroman reception would give the Padres a fresh set of downs, and a 16-yard reception for Atkins would give him his second touchdown catch of the night with 7:38 to go in the first half.
Both teams would find themselves stifled by each others’ defenses in the later parts of the second quarter as they traded punts back and forth. With 1:18 remaining in the half, however, Maurice Wilmer broke through with a 16-yard catch on 3rd-and-10 to bring the Lancers to the Serra 15. Williams would complete the drive with a one-handed catch in the end zone to put the Lancers closer at 21-14 heading into halftime.
At the half, Bottari had completed 20 out of 26 pass attempts for 238 yards and 3 TD, as Villaroman (7-60), Atkins (3-51, 2 TD) and Park (5-113, 1 TD) paved the way for the Serra offense. Darrell Page managed 10 carries for 99 yards and 1 TD for St. Francis, while Vettel went 4-8 with 1 TD and 1 interception.
At the start of the second half, a kickoff that fell just short of the goal line gave Malakai Rango the opportunity to take it to the house for a 98-yard touchdown return.
“Once I saw the ball coming, I knew that there was an opportunity,” said Rango. “Once I got past the wall and saw the kicker, I knew I had it.”
On the following drive, Darrell Page found a gap for a 55-yard run into Padre territory. The Lancers were unable to secure a touchdown, however, and settled for a 27-yard field goal at 9:02 of the third quarter. Matters became messy in the middle of the quarter, as the Padres fought back from 3rd-and-18 only to fumble on 4th-and-1 with 6:00 remaining in the quarter. The Lancers would punt the ball back and force a Padre 4th down in their own territory, but a fake punt by Lucas Hackett-Provenzano advanced the Padres to the Lancer 33. The Padres too would settle for a field goal, widening their lead back to 14 with 1:35 remaining in the quarter.
“That was all our special teams coach Ron Ortiz,” said Hackett-Provenzano. “We saw them putting out an all-out block, so he told us to bring our guys in, I would roll out, and there would be nobody there.”
“[Ortiz] studied all the film and when I saw the play I thought it was a beautiful play,” said head coach Patrick Walsh. “It was the right time to call it, and it turned out to be the difference in the game.”
In the fourth quarter, the Lancers gave it their all as they tried to rise above their 14-point deficit. At the start of the quarter, a 34-yard run for Page and a 4-yard run for Fangupo on 4th-and-inches advanced the Lancers into the red zone. At 10:01, Page made the score 31-24 on a 9-yard touchdown run. The Lancers would receive the ball for their final drive with 8:24 remaining in the game. A 19-yard reception for Williams on 3rd-and-6 brought the ball past midfield with just under seven minutes to play. With five minutes to play, Maurice Wilmer earned the Lancers a first down on third-and-long, but two penalties set the offense back thirty yards to midfield. The offense powered through, grinding time off the clock as runs by Page and passes to Williams and Pakola moved the Lancers back into the red zone with just under two minutes to play. Williams would score a touchdown at 1:26, but the 2-point conversion was unsuccessful.
The ensuing onside kick was recovered by Serra, and no mistakes were made as power running back E.J. Lahlouh (who had fumbled the ball during the third quarter) hammered home the final first down to seal the Serra victory.
“Everyone was tired by the end of it, and they just needed someone to step up and ice the game,” said Lahlouh. “I just tried to get the first down and end it.”
“There was no doubt we’d hand it to E.J.,” said Coach Walsh. “He’s a tough player, and we knew he’d get the job done.”
The CCS Champion Serra Padres (11-2) will move on to the CIF Northern California Playoffs, traveling to Tulare Union in the North regional. Following Terra Nova’s loss to Half Moon Bay, CCS runner-up St. Francis (9-4) will also head to the Playoffs based on section power points, traveling to the Central Valley to face Manteca.