Behind another stellar performance from running back Darrell Page and an opportunistic defense, the St. Francis High football team beat Manteca 28-23 Saturday in the Northern California Division 2-A final.
Page rushed for 228 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while the Lancers’ defense came up with three turnovers in the road win.
St. Francis (10-4) advances to the state Division 2-A final, scheduled to face Grace Brethren (13-2) noon Saturday at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium.
“To go to state is pretty darn special,” Lancers coach Greg Calcagno said. “It’s a great experience for the kids and the program.”
Calcagno should know – he took St. Francis to state two years ago. The Lancers didn’t win that game, falling 23-20 at Citrus Hill, but he said approximately 10 of his current players were on that team. Of those sophomores, most of them call-ups from junior varsity, only quarterback Reed Vettel saw action. He started his first varsity game and threw a touchdown pass.
The coach expects Vettel and company to benefit from that experience.
“Absolutely,” he said. “There’s nothing like experience. Even if they didn’t play in it, they know what it’s like to be there.”
Grace Brethren, a team from Simi Valley also known as the Lancers, comes into the contest on an 11-game winning streak after beating Aquinas 24-8 Saturday in the Southern California Division 2-A final.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us, that’s for sure,” Calcagno said. “They’re young but very talented.”
Grace Brethren starts a freshman quarterback, Michael Zele, who has thrown for 21 touchdowns and nearly 1,800 yards. The team has three running backs with more than 800 yards rushing, led by Lontrelle Diggs. The junior has rushed for 1,714 yards and 29 TDs.
Page has even more rushing yards, however. The junior has amassed 2,206 yards, a new single-season record at St. Francis.
“He’s pretty darn good,” Calcagno said of Page. “We’re big up front and block well, but he’s a heck of a running back. What’s really amazing is his consistency.”
Page has rushed for more than 100 yards in 13 of the Lancers’ 14 games. He scored on runs of 50 and 20 yards Saturday, giving him 23 touchdowns for the season.
Fullback Nick Robinson added a 1-yard TD run against Manteca (12-3), and Vettel hooked up with receiver Evan Williams for a 4-yard score.
Up 28-17 entering the fourth quarter, St. Francis relied on its defense the rest of the way. The Lancers recovered a fumble and forced a punt before surrendering a late touchdown. St. Francis prevented Manteca from converting the two-point conversion, though, and secured the onside kick with just more than a minute to play.
Calcagno praised his defense, which came up with two interceptions in the first half.
“Junior Fehoko was outstanding,” the coach said, “and Tyler Manoa and Lucas Andrighetto really stood out for us.”