CIF football: St. Francis howls its way to state championship
Storied Central Coast Section program claims its first state championship under blustery conditions
Darren Sabedra bayareanewsgroup.com
Under this unusual backdrop on an otherwise cloudless afternoon at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium, St. Francis became the second West Catholic Athletic League team to win a state championship in as many days, beating Grace Brethren-Simi Valley 22-13 for the 2-A crown.The gusts reached nearly 50 miles per hour — shoving almost everything in their path — but wind never felt so good for St. Francis.
Two years after falling just short of a state crown, St. Francis hoisted the championship trophy and sang the alma mater to fans who braved the elements with an extra bounce in its step.
“I was really nervous coming up to the game,” said senior quarterback Reed Vettel, who threw two touchdown passes, both to junior Evan J Williams. “I just kept thinking about my sophomore year, that state championship game and how that hurt so much. But we came back and got the job done. It’s the greatest feeling.”
St. Francis followed a familiar script. It got off to a sluggish start, gaining just one first down in the opening quarter, but erased an early touchdown deficit on Vettel’s 29-yard pass to Williams and Lucas Andrighetto’s two-point completion to Junior Fehoko after the extra-point snap wasn’t handled cleanly. The 8-7 lead widened to 15-7 later in the second quarter when an electrifying 26-yard run by Darrell Page set up a 1-yard plunge by fullback Opeti Fangupo.
Page, who last week broke St. Francis’ single-season rushing record that stood for 21 years, was held to 88 yards in 25 carries. The junior finished the year with 2,294 yards.
Grace Brethren answered Fangupo’s touchdown despite going into the teeth of the wind. It helped that a break down in coverage left receiver Jermel Jones all alone in the middle of the field. Jones caught Michael Zele’s pass and coasted to the end zone, the 72-yard play cutting St. Francis’ lead to 15-13. Grace Brethren’s two-play pass to even the score failed. St. Francis (11-4) turned to its defense in the second half, and the unit dominated in championship fashion.
“We knew going into halftime, it was 15-13 and if they don’t score, they don’t win,” defensive coordinator Matt Scharrenberg said. “Our guys took that to heart. We knew we had to survive that third quarter because we chose to kick into the wind. We felt whoever had the wind in the fourth quarter was going to be able to set the tone.”
A sack by Tyler Manoa and Joshua Pakola near the end zone late in the fourth quarter set up the exclamation point for St. Francis, a 3-yard pass in the corner from Vettel to Williams that made it 22-13 with 1:52 to go.
Williams’ older brother, Bennett, a former St. Francis star who this past week was named to ESPN’s true freshman All-American team for his play at Illinois, jumped for joy on the sideline.
“We couldn’t finish it junior year,” Bennett Williams said. “It’s awesome to celebrate with my brother and the team tonight. I was jumping around, acting a fool out there. That was a great moment.”
Evan J Williams finished with two catches, both for touchdowns.
“We knew it was going to be some crazy wind, some crazy weather,” the younger Williams said. “You can’t let it affect you. You know the ball is going to carry or die. You try to compensate for whatever the wind is. Then you just go out there and find the ball and get it as its highest peak.” Andrighetto’s interception with 59 seconds left iced the game and sent St. Francis’ sideline into jubilee.
St. Francis joined Serra as the WCAL’s only state champions. The Padres won the 2-AA title Friday night for their first state crown.
“Today is the culmination of five years of work, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of good teams that won a lot of games,” said coach Greg Calcagno, who took over the storied program in 2013, a program his father, Ron, led to 11 of its unprecedented 16 section championships from 1972-’95. “But today certainly was pretty special.”
Lancers grind out state title win
With heavy winds throughout the game, St. Francis and Grace Brethren were fine to run the ball between the tackles and play field position in the 2-A CIF State Football Championship Bowl Game. The Lancers, with a fourth down touchdown pass from Reed Vettel to Evan Williams, overcame an early 7-0 deficit to win 22-13 for the school’s first state title.
Defense, Defense, Defense: St. Francis doesn’t hide from the fact it relies on a strong defense and plays field position. With one of the most physical defenses in the region, St. Francis gave up 36 yards in the second half and 198 overall. 115 of those yards came on Grace Brethren’s two touchdowns (43 yard run from Seven McGee and a 72 yard catch from Jermel Jones).
With St. Francis holding a 15-13 lead at 2:35 left in the third, senior outside linebacker Junior Fehoko stuffed a run on 4th and 6 with Grace Brethren in St. Francis’ territory. Moving forward to less than three minutes left in the game, junior outside linebacker Joshua Pakola registered a sack at Grace Brethren’s two yard line. The subsequent punt set up St. Francis on Grace Brethren’s 26 yard line for the decisive scoring drive.
Growth arc complete for St. Francis seniors: The Lancers start 10 seniors, including six of eight lineman, and Vettel, a two year starter. He was the only sophomore on the 2015 squad that lost in the state finals. The rest of the class was apart of a 2-8 JV team.
“The only guy we brought up was Reed. Everyone else stayed down, played both ways. We had really low numbers. They just battled. They never gave up on each other,” St. Francis head coach Greg Calcagno said. “Now to see what they are able to do with their physicality is amazing.”
Starting their growth is Grace Brethren with just five seniors. It will bring back its quarterback, top two runners and top tackler.
Juniors back on offense: While St. Francis will have to replace the graduating Vettel, it will have running back Darrell Page (25 carries for 88 yards) and Williams (32 yards and two touchdowns). It also brings back WR/DB Maurice Wilmer, who didn’t play on Saturday.
Grace Brethen falls to St. Francis in CIF State 2-A football final
With a blistering wind at Sacramento State, Grace Brethren punched back often against St. Francis but St. Francis prevailed 22-13 for its first state championship.
Down 15-13, Grace Brethren (13-3) found renewed life stopping St. Francis on 4th down with 7:55 remaining. The Lancers started at its 8-yard line but on 3rd down, Michael Zele was sacked for an 11-yard loss by Joshua Pakola.
St. Francis (11-4) took over on the Grace Brethren 26-yard line and advanced to the 3-yard line where on 4th down, Reed Vettel threw a touchdown to Evan Williams with 1:52 left.
Neither team passed the ball much with the wind and Grace Brethren took advantage early, with freshman Seven McGee scoring on a 43-yard touchdown run on the Lancers’ first drive. Zele only completed three passes but his first went for a 72-yard touchdown by Jermel Jones.
Williams also caught a 29-yard touchdown pass and Junior Fehoko converted the 2-point conversion to put St. Francis up 8-7 in the second quarter. Opeti Fangupo ran for a 1-yard touchdown.
McGee finished with 69 rushing yards and Zele finished with 95 passing yards and an interception. Stanley Taufoou had a forced fumble for Grace Brethren.
St. Francis outgained Grace Brethren in yards 217-198. Leading rusher Darrell Page finished with 88 yards after gaining 225 and 228 yards in his previous two games.
St. Francis wins 2-A state championship
Mitch Stephens MaxPreps/San Francisco Chronicle
There was sheer joy. Bedlam. Embraces. Water baths. Clearly, the 22-13 Division 2-A title win over Grace Brethren-Simi Valley at windy Hornet Stadium had some extra meaning for the Lancers, leading to some extra joy.
Turns out, it was lots of pain. At least on the field.
Two years previous, all but one of the current St. Francis seniors played on a 2-8 junior varsity team, the same season the varsity lost 23-20 in the state 2-A finals to Citrus Hills-Perris. Two weeks previous, the Lancers lost 31-30 to Serra in the Central Coast Section Division 2 Open title game. Those games and seasons ended in a flood of tears.
“It’s a special group,” St. Francis coach Greg Calcagno said. “They’ve been down. They’ve come so far.”
Said Vettel: “From 2-8 to state. We’ve worked hard. We’ve believed in our coaches. We believe in ourselves. It’s all been about the brotherhood. That’s why this feels so good.”
Nobody was feeling great before this noon start. The wind, howling at close to 50 mph, was so strong that CIF officials considered moving games to Sunday due to safety concerns.
Grace Brethren, with only four seniors on its 47-man roster, controlled the line and fully contained St. Francis’ Darrell Page, who had 2,209 yards rushing coming in, including back-to-back games of 228 and 225 yards, respectively.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder finished with just 88 yards on 25 carries, but his determined 26-yard scamper set up a 1-yard TD run by Opeti Fangupo with 3:57 left in the first half.
“It doesn’t how many yards I got: All I care is that we pulled out the win,” Page said.
Grace Brethren, a school with an enrollment of just 350, came right back on the game’s next possession with a 72-yard TD pass from Michael Zele to Jemel Jones. The two-point conversion pass failed, making it 15-13 at halftime.
The score remained that way until Williams hauled in the pass from Vettel on a fade route in the left corner of the end zone. The two had connected on a 29-yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter.
“There was a big sigh of relief when he caught it,” Vettel said. “He always comes down with it.”
The St. Francis defense was stout throughout, led by two sacks from Longahulu Ahoia and one by Joshua Pakola. Linebackers Fangupo and Tyler McCabe led the team with six tackles each.
“For years we’ve hung our hat on the defense,” Calcagno said. “Today was no different. It was a great team win. A great program win. A great win for the St. Francis community.”