The St. Francis High football team is back in the Central Coast Section Open Division II final, again facing a familiar foe. Only this time, it’s Valley Christian instead of Serra – a team the Lancers lost to by a point in last year’s title game.
Top seed St. Francis (11-1) avenged that loss Friday, squashing Serra 38-8 in the semifinals, and is slated to take on No. 2 Valley Christian (10-2) 7 p.m. Saturday in the final at Independence High in San Jose. When the teams met Oct. 5 in West Catholic Athletic League play, the Lancers eked out a 7-3 home win.
St. Francis standout Opeti Fangupo expects another competitive contest Saturday.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought battle,” said the senior, who rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns Friday. “Valley’s a great team. They have hard-nosed running like us. They have a great defense. It should be a good one.”
The Lancers’ defense may be even better. St. Francis has surrendered just 96 points and has posted three shutouts this season.
Fifth-seeded Serra, routed by the Lancers 42-7 three weeks earlier in league play, made a bold move on its initial drive of Friday’s game in an effort to produce points.
Down 7-0 after Fangupo capped St. Francis’ opening drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, the Padres faked a punt from their own 31. The downfield pass by quarterback Luke Bottari, who doubles as the team’s punter, fell incomplete. Five plays later, the Lancers doubled their lead on Fangupo’s 8-yard run up the middle and Michael Leahy’s extra point.
Serra (7-5) looked to cut that deficit in half early in the second quarter, driving to the St. Francis 1. Bottari tried to leap over the line on third down, but Stanford-bound linebacker Joshua Pakola pried the ball out of his hands before the quarterback could get it into the end zone. St. Francis took possession at the 1 and marched the length of the field for another score. The seven-play drive featured long runs by Fangupo (29 yards) and Andre Bishop (21) before Ryan Daly capped it with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Evan Williams. Leahy’s kick made it 21-0 with 7:44 left in the half.
The Padres answered with a three-play scoring drive – Bottari connected with Terence Loville for a 68-yard touchdown, then ran in the two-point conversion – and threatened to score again just before halftime. After a quick three-and-out series by St. Francis, Serra drove to the 3 with just under a minute left in the half. An offensive pass interference penalty on second down wiped out Bottari’s TD toss, pushing the ball back to the 17, and the Lancers’ secondary denied him from completing another. Williams broke up a pass at the goal line and Nick Juran made a diving interception in the middle of the end zone.
“Fantastic,” St. Francis coach Greg Calcagno said of his defense. “We stopped them twice on big plays and held them out of the end zone. They got one (TD), but fortunately for us, we weren’t down at half. We could have been down at half, the way it was going. (It was a) huge stop.”
St. Francis stopped Serra’s first drive of the second half with another interception, courtesy of Justin Sinclair. Three plays later, Fangupo plunged across the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach.
“With this type of line, these coaches, as long as you hit the holes, you’re good from there,” Fangupo said of his success running the ball Friday.