A dramatic finish for St. Francis in its game against Loyola came down to the last two plays.
The Golden Knights needed to get both to secure an outright Angelus League championship. St. Francis got the first when it scored a touchdown with no time left. But the following 2-point conversion to win barely fell incomplete as the Golden Knights were handed a narrow 28-27 loss on Friday night.
St. Francis (7-3, 4-1) will head into the CIF-Southern Section playoffs next week as a co-league champ with both Loyola (5-5, 4-1) and Cathedral (8-2, 4-1). The pairings are announced on Sunday.
“We ran a 2-point play that I’ve run for the past five of six years and it’s never not-worked,” said St. Francis coach Dean Herrington. “And give their linebacker credit. They sniffed it out. Michael Gordo made a great effort to try to catch it. It would’ve been an unbelievable catch.”
On the 2-point conversion, quarterback Jack Jacobs dropped back and fired over the middle into the end zone to Gordo. But Loyola’s Jared Erby was directly in front of Gordo. He jumped and deflected the ball. Gordo extended his right arm as he was falling backwards. He grabbed the ball and tried to cradle it but he couldn’t quite control it as the ball hit the ground when his back hit turf.
Herrington said going for two rather than kicking an extra point to force overtime was never a question.
“Especially with that play,” Herrington said. “I have a lot of confidence in it. Like I said, it’s never not worked.”
St. Francis had a chance to win at the end thanks to a rally after being down 28-7 in the third quarter. The Golden Knights answered a Cubs touchdown late in the third quarter when Devyn Turner scored his second of two touchdowns with a one-yard run to cut the Loyola lead to 28-14. It was a quick seven-play, 80-yard drive.
St. Francis pulled within one score, 28-21, with 7:10 left in the game. Jacobs hit Preston Jernegan for a six-yard touchdown when he rolled right, stopped and threw to the left side of the end zone. It was an easy catch for Jernegan.
The Golden Knights forced Loyola to punt on the Cubs’ next possession but a pass from Jacobs to Antonio Merlos on a 4th-and-9 was less than foot short of the first down marker at the Loyola 40 with 4:02 remaining.
Loyola looked to run out the clock on the next drive. St. Francis forced a 4th-and-5 at the Golden Knights 29 with just 52 seconds left. Loyola attempted a 46-yard field goal but it was blocked.
The Golden Knights then took over their own 33 with 46 seconds left. Jacobs connected with DruShun Phillips for a 27-yard gain to give St. Francis the ball at the Loyola 20 with 14 seconds remaining. Jacobs spiked the ball on the next play with eight seconds left. His pass in the middle of the end zone to Merlos on the next play fell incomplete with 1.6 seconds left. However, pass interference was called on Loyola.
St. Francis then had the ball at the 10. Loyola called timeout but was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when the players came back to the field. That put the ball on the 5. Jacobs dropped back on the next play and found Merlos on the left side of the end zone for a touchdown to pull the Golden Knights within one point before the final 2-point conversion try.
Jacobs had a big night, completing 28 of 43 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns. Phillips caught six passes for 124 yards. Merlos caught eight passes for 69 yards.
Turner had a big game last week against St. Paul, rushing for 217 yards. However, he was held by Loyola to just 35 yards on 14 carries. He did catch six passes for 60 yards.
The Golden Knights had some missed opportunities in the game. They lost two fumbles and tried an onside kick to start the third quarter. They recovered the ball but were hit with offsides penalty.
The most controversial situation happened as time wound down in the second quarter. St. Francis was down 21-7 with 4.7 seconds left with the ball at the Loyola 8. Jacobs threw an incomplete pass in the end zone. Time expired but Herrington pleaded with the refs to put a second back up, arguing there was time left when the ball hit the ground. However, the refs ended the half.
Loyola was led by running back Jon Bautista. He rushed for 161 yards on 21 carries. He also scored a touchdown. Loyola quarterback Xavier Rice completed 23 of 30 passes for 192 and two touchdowns.