Lancers Lose Another Close Battle In DII-A State Title Game | by: Alex Simon
GetSportsFocus is presented by: Dr. Arthur J. Ting, MD – Sports Medicine & Orthopedic Surgery
by: Alex Simon
PERRIS — All season, the Saint Francis Lancers have found themselves in close, hard-fought football games. With eight of the 14 games played ahead of the California Interscholastic Federation Division II-A State Championship Bowl game decided by single-digits, the Lancers added a ninth contest to that list against Citrus Hill.
This time, though, the Lancers could not muster last-second game-winning play that they’ve been able to convert at multiple times this season, falling to the Hawks 23-20 in Perris, a small town south of Riverside.
“I’m always proud of this team,” coach Greg Calcagno said after the game. “I’m proud of the way we battled coming down here. They’re a good football team, and they get to play at home based on their record. For our guys to battle and have the game come down to the last minute again… I couldn’t be happier or prouder of these guys.
“I love them, they are a lot of fun to go to work with, and I’m going to miss being with them on Monday. When I look back at what we accomplished — us making our first state game — we learned a lot, and hopefully we can get back again very very soon.”
Saint Francis started strong, as Adam Poltrack recovered a fumble on the opening drive at the Citrus Hill 21. The Lancers immediately cashed in on the turnover, as fullback Viliami Sanft bulldozed into the endzone from 2 yards out. The point-after kick hit the upright and missed.
Saint Francis starting quarterback, senior captain Kamalii Akina, did not play Saturday, with the school only saying he was “unavailable” to play. Sophomore Reed Vettel started his first career game after backing up Akina all season and made an immediate impact, finding BEASTPIECE GameChanger of the Week Darius Thomas for a 54-yard touchdown. The Lancers led 13-0 after one.
Citrus Hill responded, but not without controversy. Saint Francis punted away after going 3-and-out on the first drive. One of the two returners back for the Hawks signaled for a fair catch at their own 48, while the other returner caught the ball and ran it to the Lancer 36. The referees did not call a flag initially, but then did. The penalty was assessed at the end of the run, even though it was supposed to be from the spot of the fair catch.
The Hawks scored midway through the second quarter on a 45-yard touchdown run from Devin Floyd. The Lancers drove into the Hawk redzone late in the quarter, but were unable to convert a 4th down play at the 19. The Lancers led 13-7 at half.
Citrus Hill took the lead in the third quarter, lowering the deficit to three when Manny Berz hit a 42-yard field goal at the end of the short drive to make it 13-10. After another Lancer punt, The Hawks faced 4th and 11 from the Lancer 40. A deep pass from Elijah Matthews appeared to never be caught by Citrus Hill wideout JaQuan Blackwell inside the 5-yard line, but the referees ruled it a catch. Blackwell did not celebrate his catch, which was rather unusual for the Hawks on the night. Dumar Fisher scored from 6 yards out to give Citrus Hill a 16-13 lead, staying at a 3-point lead when Saint Francis blocked the point after kick.
Saint Francis drove into the redzone at the start of the fourth quarter but was unable to punch in a go-ahead touchdown. Courtney Ogren went out for a 32-yard field goal, but the snap was poor and Ogren never got a chance to kick it, resulting in a turnover on downs. A 60-yard run from Floyd and a 20-yard touchdown pass from Matthews to fullback Finau Mikaele on the next two plays. In three plays, Saint Francis went from potentially tying the game to down by 10.
The Lancers quickly drove down the field and scored when Vettel hit Bennett Williams on two big passes on the drive, the second one a 26-yard touchdown. With four minutes left, Saint Francis attempted an onside kick, but it sailed out of bounds. The Lancers were able to force a turnover on downs at their own 28 with 2 minutes left, but used their final timeout to do so. A personal foul penalty against Saint Francis moved them deep into their own territory, and Vettel’s fourth down pass fell incomplete.
“I thought Reed did a great job,” Calcagno said of Vettel, who finished his first start 8-of-16 for 201 yards and 2 touchdowns. “He didn’t get a lot of snaps this year, but he came in and played like a veteran. Our kids rallied around him and made great plays. We’re very proud of what he did tonight.”
The Lancers end the season 12-3, the most games in a single season in school history.