Monday, June 24, 2024

St. Francis football ends drought against Loyola, holds on in league opener

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LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — The Loyola football team had a chance to walk it off down four points with two seconds left on the St. Francis 22-yard line.

Holding off a furious last-second offensive attack, St. Francis held on to beat Loyola 26-21 Friday at Friedman Field.

Holding a two-touchdown lead with just under four minutes left, the Golden Knights allowed a Cubs touchdown but prevented another after Cubs senior quarterback Thomas Knayl’s pass flew just above the hands of an outstretched receiver in the back of the end zone as time expired, allowing the Golden Knights to escape with a victory.

St. Francis improved to 5-1 and 1-0 in the Mission League opener while Loyola dropped to 1-5 and 0-1.

St. Francis coach Dean Herrington knows the situation all too well. His Golden Knights were in essentially the same position in last year’s season finale, eventually losing on a failed two-point conversion.

They didn’t lose this time. And Herrington didn’t mince words about his rival after the win.

“I’m happy with the way my guys act after they win,” Herrington said. “The last two years they came over and taunted our fans and our stands. We know how to win. I don’t know about that outfit over there.”

“We’ve been wanting to beat Loyola for a long time,” St. Francis quarterback John Sanders said. “It’s been a good rivalry for many, many years. We haven’t won in a while.”

Fourteen years, to be exact, when St. Francis last beat Loyola 27-23 at Friedman Field. This game looked remarkably similar.

Coming into Friday’s game, Loyola had won all three games against St. Francis since joining the Angelus League ahead of the 2020 season. Last year’s regular season finale at Loyola featured a last-second touchdown from St. Francis to bring the Golden Knights within one point, only for a failed two-point conversion to hand the Cubs a 28-27 win and a share of the league title.

“It’s always good to win,” said Herrington. “We won the game, that’s what matters.”

Loyola struck first on their third play from scrimmage, with Knyal linking up with senior wideout Khalil Cueva for a 63-yard touchdown. Knyal was the spark for Loyola’s hurry-up offense, finishing the game 23-of-40 for 206 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions.

Loyola’s offense ran fast and decisive. St. Francis’ offense ran slow and methodical. This time, slow and steady won out.

St. Francis responded with an 11-play, 58-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run from senior running back John Calmette.

It was Calmette again in the second quarter, this time on a 9-yard touchdown run to cap off a 61-yard drive to give St. Francis a 13-7 lead with a little over two minutes left in the half.

Though Calmette accounted for the lion’s share of points for St. Francis, Loyola limited him to 46 yards rushing on 18 carries. His performance helped pace the Golden Knight’s methodical possession, however, and he was key to their victory.

“He’s been injured a little bit, so he hasn’t been able to practice a whole lot,” Herrington said. “We just took what they could give us.”

The Cubs’ hurry-up offense went to work early. Starting on their own 14-yard line, Loyola’s two-minute sprint drove them down the field and into the end zone thanks to a 22-yard pass from Knyal to junior wideout Duke Giarraputo. The extra point gave the Cubs a 14-13 halftime lead.

After forcing another Loyola punt midway through the third quarter, St. Francis manufactured a 15-play, 92-yard drive that ended in a 4-yard rushing touchdown from Sanders. The score gave the Golden Knights a 19-14 lead after a failed two-point conversion.

“I just feel like when I’m on my feet I can do what I want,” said Sanders. “It’s kind of like a freestyle, and I just take it from there.”

Sanders finished with 50 rushing yards on 15 carries and a touchdown, affecting the game just as much with his feet as with his arm.

“We knew we wanted to run John Sanders a lot tonight, and he did a great job,” said Herrington.

St. Francis extended their lead early in the fourth quarter on Calmette’s third touchdown of the game, this time from five yards out. Loyola’s hurry-up offense brought them within six points on Giarraputo’s second receiving touchdown of the night with just over three minutes left, but the Cubs fell just short on their final possession.

Sanders finished 12-of-20 passing for 150 yards.

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