St. Francis junior running back Dietrich Riley, the reigning All-Area Player of the Year, was limited to 55 yards in 11 carries. The Golden Knights (4-0), however, led throughout the entire game and forced Rio Mesa (0-4) to punt seven times and turn the ball over on downs twice.
St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds expressed concern about the Golden Knights offense, but said their defensive unit proved to be the difference.
“With our defense, we knew that would be the strength for us,” said Bonds, whose squad has allowed 12 points in the last two games. “I thought we were a little sluggish on offense, but Rio Mesa did some things that gave us trouble.
“We couldn’t get our running game going and our pass protection broke down.”
St. Francis, which went 4-6 last season, scored on its opening drive when David Sternau converted on a 29-yard field goal to make it 3-0 with 8:51 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Golden Knights, who opened the season with victories against Arcadia, Crescenta Valley and Burroughs, extended their lead to 10-0 when running back Evan King scored on a one-yard plunge on the first play of the second quarter.
Rio Mesa cut the deficit to 10-7 when quarterback Chase Perham tossed a nine-yard touchdown pass to receiver Shelby Spears with 3:39 left in the first half.
The St. Francis defense came up big early in the third quarter when the Spartans turned the ball over on downs on an incomplete pass by Perham on the Rio Mesa 28.
The Golden Knights, ranked sixth in the CIF Western Division, took advantage when St. Francis quarterback Justin Sciarra threw a screen pass to receiver Jeff Johnson who took it 12 yards for the touchdown, making it 17-7 with 7:38 left in the third quarter.
St. Francis cornerback Luther Walker had an interception in the fourth quarter to quell a Rio Mesa rally.
Sciarra finished the game five of nine passing for 49 yards and an interception.
King rushed for 23 yards in nine carries, as St. Francis totaled just 92 yards of offense.
“[Rio Mesa] has played some good teams this year in Agoura and Newbury Park and we knew that they were capable of playing tough,” Bonds said. “It was a good test for us because they play tough ball [in Ventura County].”
St. Francis faces El Rancho on the road next week.