Saturday’s Central Coast Section Open Division II football final came down to bold moves – Serra High made them throughout the game and St. Francis High’s daring attempt at the end came up just short.
After scoring a touchdown on Reed Vettel’s 19-yard pass to Evan Williams with 1:26 left, the Lancers opted for the two-point conversion to pull ahead of the Padres rather than kick the extra point to tie them. Vettel, rolling right with pressure coming, threw a pass to fullback Opeti Fangupo that fell incomplete.
Top-seeded Serra recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock, escaping Independence High with a 31-30 victory over No. 3 St. Francis.
Lancers coach Greg Calcagno had no regrets about the decision to go for the win instead of the tie and, mostly likely, the chance to play overtime.
“That late in the game, we were going to go for it,” he said. “Win or lose, we’re going to put it in our guys’ hands and see what happens. I’d do it 10 out of 10 times.”
Especially when the offense is rolling in the fourth quarter like it was Saturday. St. Francis, down 31-17 at the end of the third, scored back-to-back touchdowns in the fourth. Halfback Darrell Page capped the first of those drives with a 9-yard dash up the middle – a touchdown set up by Vettel’s pass to receiver Williams, who snared the ball at midfield and pitched it to Page for a 34-yard play.
“Evan Williams makes this fantastic catch for the first down and then we punch it into the end zone,” said Page, who rushed for a game-high 234 yards and two TDs. “I give it up to my line and my teammates for that.”
Alessandro Maiuolo’s extra point sliced Serra’s lead to 31-24 with 10:01 remaining. The Lancers (9-4 overall) got the ball back less than two minutes later, thanks to their defense, which held Serra to a three-and-out drive.
“The defense built up the offense’s momentum,” said Page, lauding a unit that surrendered only a field goal in the second half.
Starting at its own 14, St. Francis needed nine plays to reach the end zone, overcoming a pair of personal-foul penalties along the way. Williams accounted for 56 yards on the drive with three leaping catches – the last one over Serra defensive back Chris Park for a touchdown at the front-left pylon.
Williams’ earlier touchdown was even more impressive: the junior made a one-handed catch in the left side of the end zone with 52 seconds left in the first half.
“That first one, one-handed, was unbelievable,” Calcagno said. “We like every 50-50 ball we throw to him. We like his ability to go up and get it.”
St. Francis – which scored the game’s first TD on Page’s 71-yard run down the left sideline early in the opening quarter – trailed 21-14 at halftime.
The Padres (11-2) punted only once in the first half. They went for it on fourth down four times and converted three of those plays.
Serra opened the second half with the longest play of the night. Malakai Rango returned the kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.
The special teams breakdown didn’t break the Lancers, though. Maiuolo drilled a 27-yard field goal on their next drive – boosted by Page’s 55-yard gallop – to make it 28-17 with 8:58 left in the third. Three minutes later, linebacker Junior Fehoko recovered a Serra fumble.
“That’s just who we are,” Calcagno said of St. Francis’ resiliency. “Our guys are never going to turn their backs and point fingers at each other. I’m really proud of that.”
The Padres pushed the lead back to 14 points by quarter’s end, thanks largely to a fake punt. Instead of booting the ball from his own 30, Lucas Hackett-Provenzano carried it 37 yards down the left sideline. Linebacker Joshua Pakola sacked Serra quarterback Luke Bottari on the next play, but the slippery QB escaped for a 15-yard gain on third down. That led to Damon Lewis’ 43-yard field goal.
The Lancers responded by scoring the last 13 points – almost enough to edge a Serra team that beat them 31-21 a month earlier in West Catholic Athletic League play.
“Man, it stings,” Page said of Saturday’s setback, “but like coach was telling us and one of our captains, Tyler Manoa ... he told us just to keep our heads up – this ain’t the end.”
And it isn’t – St. Francis has qualified for the Northern California Division 2-A playoffs. The Lancers are scheduled to visit Manteca (12-2) 6 p.m. Saturday. The two teams have one opponent in common this season. Manteca beat Valley Christian 22-20 to open the season Aug. 25, and the Lancers fell 28-21 to the Warriors a month later in their WCAL opener.