With two games left in the regular season, St. Francis High Coach Jim Bonds said now is the perfect time to treat the rest of the regular season like the postseason. The Golden Knights are on the outside of the playoff bubble, the result of two Mission League losses against powerhouses Gardena Serra and Chaminade, the top-ranked team in the CIF Southern Section Western Division poll.
St. Francis will conclude its arduous three-game road trip with a league game against St. Paul at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The Golden Knights and Swordsmen are 6-2 and 1-2 in league and tied for third place. The top two teams from the league earn automatic playoffs spots, making Friday's game even more crucial for St. Francis and St. Paul.
"We are going to treat this just like a playoff game," said Bonds, whose team fell, 31-13, to Chaminade on Friday. "If we can win our last two games, then we are 8-2 and CIF will likely give us an at-large berth in the playoffs.
"We have our work cut out for us once again and we are going to play in a tough place."
The Swordsmen and Golden Knights are ranked sixth and ninth, respectively, in the division. St. Paul suffered a 21-14 loss against Serra, ranked third in the division, on Friday.
St. Francis has won three games in a row against St. Paul, including a 40-10 home win last season at Friedman Field.
Veteran St. Paul Coach Marijon Ancich said the rivalry has grown since it began in the 1960s.
"You are talking about two schools with a lot of tradition and passion," said Ancich, who has guided St. Paul to three CIF titles over three stints totaling 37 years. "These are two teams that are intense and St. Francis looks good."
The Golden Knights will rely on the offensive trio of quarterback Jared Lebowitz, running back Austin De Los Santos and receiver Travis Talianko to gain the upper hand against St. Paul.
Lebowitz had mixed results against Chaminade, completing 18 of 44 passes for 207 yards. He tossed a pair of touchdowns and interceptions.
De Los Santos rushed for 97 yards in 18 carries and the San Jose State-bound Talianko grabbed six passes for 83 yards and one touchdown.
"Talianko will probably be the key," Ancich said. "They have a group of sturdy guys up front.
"They also have a lot of defensive and offensive combinations that we are going to need to be aware of. For us, our quarterback will need to perform for us to survive."
St. Paul has plenty of offensive firepower that will look to topple St. Francis. Quarterback Paul Telles passed for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns against Serra. Telles' primary receiving targets are wide receiver Zach Ramsay and tight end Tyler Carrillo.
The Swordsmen are also dangerous on the ground, turning to running backs David Cabral and Mike Ortega.
"St. Paul likes to mix it up and they do it well," Bonds said. "They do a lot of play-action and their quarterback can scramble, so they are pretty balanced offensively."
Blair at La Cañada, 7 p.m. Friday: When it was needed most, the La Cañada High football team got a win against Temple City last week. The Spartans didn't look like the one-win team they were coming into the game, as they ran away with a 44-27 win over the Rams at home.
La Cañada (2-6, 1-2 in Rio Hondo League) still needs to win out the rest of the season to keep its playoff hopes alive. The Spartans have a good opportunity to keep the ball rolling when they host Blair (1-7, 0-3 in league) Friday for their homecoming game.
A glance at both teams' rosters show the Spartans have the edge, as the Vikings roster is less than half the size of La Cañada's 49-man roster. Blair's offense has struggled the entire season and failed to score more than seven points the past five weeks.
The Spartans put their offensive woes behind them against the Rams, racking up 44 points last week, behind a big night from their quarterback Matt Jones, who passed for 155 yards and a score and ran for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
Franklyn Cervenka, La Cañada's running back/wide receiver, also stood out last week, finishing the game with 148 total yards (99 receiving and 49 rushing) and a touchdown. Three other La Cañada running backs — Kevin Stoner, Andy Paynter and Kyle Herron — found the end zone last week.
La Cañada's defense also stepped up last week, forcing three Temple City turnovers — two of which led to scores on offense.
Pasadena Poly vs. Flintridge Prep at Occidental College, 7 p.m. Friday: If there's one thing that might provide extra incentive for Flintridge Prep in its quest to end its seven-game losing it would be playing Prep League main rival Pasadena Poly.
It's turned out to be tumultuous season for the Rebels (1-7, 0-3 in league). A 49-0 league road loss against Rio Hondo Prep on Friday was the latest loss in a season that's season to forfeits due to a depleted roster.
Now, Flintridge Prep will have its shot at Pasadena Poly in hopes of elevating its game and looking to finish the final two weeks of the season on a winning streak. The Panthers (5-3, 1-2) posted a 26-21 league win against Webb on Friday at South Pasadena High after being blanked in their two previous league games against Chadwick and Rio Hondo Prep.
For the Rebels, who have been shutout three times this season, they will try to generate plenty more offense than they did against Rio Hondo Prep. Quarterback Clayton Weirick completed seven of 20 passes for 50 yards. Junior running back Kurt Kozacik led the team with 33 rushing yards in 12 carries and sophomore Stefan Smith had 28 in 10 rushes.
Pasadena Poly received an interception late in the fourth quarter by Curtis Toyota to preserve the victory. The Panthers competed without starting quarterback Jonah Campbell and handed the signal-calling responsibilities to Nolan Mulligan. Mulligan threw for 184 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown on a screen pass to Harrison Hodgkins, against Webb. Hodgkins caught three passes for a team-best 104 yards.
Since Flintridge Prep beat Pasadena Poly in the CIF Southern Section Division XIII championship game in 2003, the Rebels have gone 1-7 against the Panthers. Flintridge Prep last beat Pasadena Poly, 54-0, in 2007. The Panthers have won three games in a row against the Rebels, including a 42-7 victory last season.