The football team has generally enjoyed the upper hand on Arcadia High when the two schools have met annually for the first game of the season dating back to 1996.
Friday night the Golden Knights knew they would be facing one of Arcadia’s stronger teams in recent memory.
Sure enough, it took a Billy McCreary field goal with 8 seconds left to lift the visiting Golden Knights to a 31-28 victory, their fourth consecutive over the Apaches.
“They’re well coached and we tried to give it to them in the first half,” St. Francis coach Jim Bonds said. “(But) we battled back and showed a lot of poise and character in how we stayed in the game.”
St. Francis (1-0) overcame an 18-point first-half deficit, by scoring 26 unanswered points.
Arcadia (0-1) rallied to tie the score late in the fourth quarter before the Golden Knights marched down the field and allowed McCreary to help kick his team to victory.
Arcadia coach Jon Dimalante called a pair of timeouts before the field goal in an attempt to rattle McCreary.
“They tried to throw me off mentally,” McCreary said. “I saw it when the coach came on the field. Everyone in the huddle kept saying just like practice.”
Dimalante said he hopes his team can learn from the loss.
“I’m disappointed for our kids. They expected to win,” Dimalante said. “We had them on the ropes in the first half and I thought we could have put them away but to their credit, we let them off the hook. We made some mental mistakes and I hope that’s a valuable lesson we learn the next time we get in that situation.”
Arcadia got on the board just 14 seconds into the contest as University of Washington commit Taylor Lagace returned the kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
The Apaches went up 14-0 midway through the first quarter as Rodney Arnett scored on a 12-yard run.
St. Francis got a break late in the quarter when Arcadia snapped a punt attempt out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a safety.
But things got worse for the Golden Knights before they got better.
Junior quarterback Jared Lebowitz had his shuffle pass intercepted by Robby Haines, who returned it 78 yards for a touchdown.
Lebowitz, a transfer from Vermont, struggled in the early going but got stronger in the second half. He finished 15 of 35 for 227 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
Lebowitz hooked up with Ryan McAleenan on a 34-yard touchdown at the 5:14 mark of the second quarter to cut the deficit to 20-9. He later hooked up with Christian Hess with 29 seconds left in the half to make it 20-15 after a two-point attempt was failed.
The Golden Knights took a 21-20 lead midway through the third quarter on a 2-yard run by Luke Anderson.
After an Apache turnover, Lebowitz and Hess hooked up again, this time from 28 yards out, giving St. Francis a 28-20 lead with 2:26 left in the third quarter.
But Arcadia was not finished.
Sheldon McKinley scored on an 8-yard run with 5:40 to play and Lagace made a spectacular leap to catch the two-point conversion pass from quarterback Miles Carr.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
ARCADIA 14 6 0 8 – 28
ST. FRANCIS 2 13 13 3 – 31
A-Lagace 90 kickoff return (Pulciano kick)
A-Arnett 12 run (Pulciano kick)
SF- Safety. Ball snapped out of back of end zone
A-Haines 78 interception return (run failed)
SF-McAleenan 34 from Lebowitz (McCreary kick)
SF-Hess 29 pass from Lebowitz (pass failed)
SF-Anderson 2 run (pass failed)
SF-Hess 28 pass from Lebowitz (McCreary kick)
A-McKinley 8 run (Lagace from Carr)
SF-McCreary 19 kick
SF: Lebowitz 15-35-1 227, 3 TD (34, 29, 28 yards). A: Carr 10-22-1 77 yards
SF: De Los Santos 22-100. A: McKinley 11-71-1 (8 yards)
SF: Nieves 5-40. A: Lagace 4-52.