Photo By: Town Crier file photo
St. Francis beat Los Gatos behind a defense led by linebacker Grant Tinker, left.
Although the St. Francis High football team began its championship reign in the rain, Saturday night’s downpour didn’t dampen the Lancers’ soaring spirits one bit.
Players were in no hurry to seek refuge in the locker room after beating Los Gatos 17-0 in the Central Coast Section Division II final, spending plenty of time on the wet Westmont field celebrating with hugs and hand slaps, posing for photos and simply savoring the experience.
“Overwhelming joy,” St. Francis senior linebacker Grant Tinker said when asked how he felt as the game came to an end. “Joy and that all the time and hard work since the summer paid off and we finally got the win. It’s the biggest win of my football career.”
Same goes for third-year coach Nick Navarro. He guided St. Francis to its 15th CCS crown and first since 2002 – and that was a co-championship with Los Gatos.
“It seems unreal – it hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. ”It’s pretty cool. The kids worked hard to get in this position.”
The top-seeded Lancers (8-5) came into the game as the favorite, crushing their last three opponents with a stingy defense that surrendered just seven points and a balanced offense led by record-setting quarterback Mike Lauck. But the No. 2 Wildcats – the defending champs – kept St. Francis off the scoreboard until Lauck tossed a 10-yard touchdown to receiver Charlie Clarke with 4:06 remaining in the third quarter.
Los Gatos (8-5) fumbled on the ensuing drive, putting the Lancers in prime position to extend their lead. Starting at the Wildcats’ 44, St. Francis capped a seven-play drive with halfback Alex Andrighetto’s 10-yard dash into the end zone. Patrick Fordham’s extra point put the Lancers up 14-0 with 13 seconds left in the third quarter. Fordham added a 30-yard field goal late in the fourth for good measure.
The St. Francis defense, meanwhile, made sure the Wildcats didn’t breach its goal line. Los Gatos got as close as the Lancers’ 5 before turning the ball over on downs midway through the fourth.
“We have a different mindset,” Tinker said of the defense, which he led with nine solo tackles Saturday. “It’s not just to win, but it’s how we win – we don’t want to give up a field goal or a touchdown.”
The Lancers, who posted their fifth shutout of the season, forced two turnovers and limited Los Gatos to just 235 yards of offense.
“That’s super impressive,” Navarro said. “It says a lot about the defensive staff and the job they did, and the execution by the players. It’s a whole lot easier to win when you don’t give up points.”
In the first half, however, nothing came easy for either team. The slick conditions seemed to contribute to the lack of execution by both offenses. St. Francis and Los Gatos each reached the red zone in the opening quarter, only to come away empty. The Lancers turned the ball over on downs at the Wildcats’ 13 and Los Gatos fumbled on the St. Francis 6.
The Wildcats threatened again in the second quarter but missed a 40-yard field goal after the St. Francis defense held firm at the 23.
The Lancers’ drive to open the second half resulted in a fumble at the Los Gatos 19. St. Francis’ next series ended in disappointment as well, as Fordham missed a 38-yard field goal.
But the Lancers wouldn’t be denied for much longer. A poor punt by Los Gatos set St. Francis up at the Wildcats’ 22, and Lauck connected with Clarke for the touchdown four plays later.
“After that turnover on the first series (of the second half), we settled in more – we came out fired up in that championship environment,” Navarro said. “That first touchdown took the pressure off the kids and we secured the ball better.”
“We needed that for both sides of the ball,” he said. “We’re seen as a second-half team – our offense is – and the defense keys off that.”
St. Francis racked up 326 yards of offense. Lauck was 11 of 19 passing for 133 yards. The senior rushed for a team-high 102 yards and junior Andrighetto ran for 100.