Two long punt return TDs spark the Lancers to a 21-12 triumph over 2015 CIF Northern California Division I-AA champion Bellarmine of San Jose and cements their status as the front-running team from the CIF Central Coast Section.
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While teams from the premiere Catholic football league in Southern California love to leave fans breathless with their high-octane offenses, it’s a bit more old-school for the top two teams in the West Catholic Athletic League.
Longtime NorCal and WCAL powerhouses St. Francis of Mountain View and Bellarmine of San Jose met on Friday at San Jose City College and the game settled into a defensive slugfest after the first quarter.
Unfortunately for the host Bells, the Lancers already had jumped out to a 21-0 lead and they held on for a 21-12 victory.
St. Francis, sitting at No. 12 in the State Top 25, improved to 5-0 and proved that the preseason No. 1 ranking in the CIF Central Coast Section, even above a Bellarmine team it had lost to for 11 straight matchups, was justified. The Bells dropped to 3-2 and likely will drop from the next State Top 25. Their other loss, though, also was by a respectable 16-14 score to current No. 7 Del Oro of Loomis.
“It’s been four years since I’ve been the head coach and this is just one team that we hadn’t beaten yet,” said St. Francis head coach Greg Calcagno. “We’ve still got a long way to go so we’ve got to consistently battle in the games coming up.”
The Lancers came out determined to run the ball behind 6-foot-2, 215-pound Cyrus Habibi-Likio. The Washington State commit had runs of seven and 14 yards to start the first series and then even on a third down and 10 play he was given the ball. Habibi-Likio cut back through a seam in the middle of the Bellarmine defense and ran for a 59-yard touchdown.
After Bellarmine’s first series went backward (thanks mostly to a bad snap), the Bells punted where St. Francis senior Garrett McCarthy caught the ball and found a lot of room to run. He took the return for a 54-yard touchdown. Just like that it was 14-0.
The Bells did get one first down on their second possession, but had to punt again with sophomore Josh Pakola (6-3, 225) and BYU-bound Tyler Manoa (6-4, 290) getting a sack of Bells’ QB Ike Ogbogu.
McCarthy then struck again. This time he went to his right and zig-zagged for a 61-yard punt return score.
“These are my first two varsity scores ever,” confirmed McCarthy. “We’ve been close (to breaking one) a few times and had one called back last week. Everybody did a great job blocking.”
Bellarmine continued to struggle offensively in the first half and St. Francis wasn’t able to add any more scores to its lead, either.
In the second half, Ogbogu began to pass more and on the team’s second series of the third quarter his three completions helped move the ball inside the 5-yard line where senior fullback-linebacker Jackson Burrill then punched it in for a 4-yard score. The only problem is that PAT kick missed.
The Bells continued to grab the momentum and went for a second touchdown drive that began with a 34-yard pass from Ogbogu to Noah Laine. Austin Ajake did the honors with a 12-yard scoring run.
Facing a 21-12 deficit, Bellarmine head coach Mike Janda then elected to go for the two-point conversion. The Lancers stopped it but there was still 10:17 left in the game, plenty of time for the Bells to potentially score twice.
Bellarmine could get no closer. One series ended on a sack of Ogbogu by St. Francis’ Junior Fehoko. The next one was stopped on an interception by Bennett Williams. The Bells’ last-gasp drive with 1:20 left was stopped on downs with fourth-down pass from Ogbogu to Laine just glancing off his fingertips in the end zone.
Had Bellarmine even scored on that play, the Bells and no time outs left and still would have had to have covered an onside kick attempt to even to have had a chance for a miraculous win.
Habibi-Likio finished with 119 yards on 25 carries, but only had 39 yards after that first series. Ogbogu completed 11 of 23 passes for 164 yards for Bellarmine.
“You’ve got to take your hats off to Bellarmine for the way they battled,” Calcagno said. “We knew our defense would do well and they made the plays in the second half.”
If both teams qualify for the CIF Central Coast Section playoffs, as expected, the Bells project to be in the Open Division I while the Lancers would be in Open Division II (same as last year). Having the head-to-head win, however, would mean a higher CIF bowl game seeding for the Lancers.