MOUNTAIN VIEW — Don’t be fooled by the 38-8 final score. Serra’s season-ending loss to the St. Francis Lancers in the Central Coast Section Open Division II Semifinals was nothing like the thrashing the Padres had suffered three weeks prior.
That 42-7 loss on Nov. 3 to end Serra’s hopes of a third consecutive WCAL title was a one-sided beatdown, but when the Padres’ bid for a third straight CCS title and hopes for a third straight state championship appearance came to a close on Friday night, it was a hard-fought contest that could have been far closer if not for a few pivotal plays.
After being held to 164 total yards and getting completely shut down in the run game in that initial meeting, Serra (7-5) found traction both through the air and on the ground in Friday’s defeat, one that could have gone down to the wire were it not for a failed fake punt, a goal-line fumble and a penalty to negate a touchdown, in addition to injuries.
The Lancers emerged victorious in a second straight meeting with Serra, avenging four straight losses in the rivalry — including playoff defeats in 2016 and 2017 — against a Padres team lacking some of its key playmakers.
Serra’s starting running back David Coker tore his ACL in the second game of the season, Davidson-bound linebacker E.J. Lahlouh was out on Friday with mononucleosis and an enlarged spleen. Even kicker and defensive back Damon Lewis was unavailable after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Thursday night.
Trailing 14-0 early in the second quarter, Padres quarterback Luke Bottari was stopped just shy of the line on second-and-goal, and leapt into the pile on third down. While he appeared to have crossed the plane with the ball, no whistle was blown and four-star Stanford commit Joshua Pakola ended up stripping the ball.
The turnover started a seven-play, 99-yard drive to give top-seeded St. Francis (11-1) a three-score lead, with Opeti Fangupo busting out with a 29-yard gain. Andre Bishop’s 22-yard run brought the Lancers across midfield, and Ryan Daly’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Evan Williams opened up a three-score lead.
The second-seeded Padres would respond just three plays later with Bottari’s 68-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Terence Loville. Bottari took a big hit at the goal line but was ruled to have reached the end zone for the two-point conversion, some karmic retribution after being denied a touchdown earlier. With a quick Lancer three-and-out and a St. Francis penalty on the punt, the Serra offense was in business again.
Bottari found Patrick Simon on fourth down to extend the drive, and a 19-yard completion to Loville gave the Padres first-and-goal. With third-and-goal at the 2, Bottari and Simon connected on a short pass to the front of the end zone, but an offensive pass interference flag on the pick play negated the touchdown. Williams broke up a pass on the following play, and a Nick Juran interception in the end zone sent the hosts into halftime with a two-score lead despite the multiple close calls.
It would be the same story for Serra in the third. With fourth-and-1 at the Lancer 36, a Justin Sinclair interception and 48-yard return dashed any hopes of trimming the lead to one score, and with another Fangupo touchdown run — this one from just a yard out — the hosts were in front by 20. The 5-foot-10, 235-pound Fangupo ran for 142 yards on 19 carries.
Michael Leahy drilled a 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, and the St. Francis defense provided the final score as Bottari was stripped on a fierce blindside hit by Carsten Rawls. Chris Senteno picked up the loose ball and returned it 51 yards for the touchdown, and Bottari’s record-breaking three-year varsity career — with two league championships, two section championships and the first state title in program history — ended on the sidelines in concussion protocol, as sophomore Daylin McLemore — the heir apparent back of center — took the last few snaps on the damp evening.
“This group of seniors is full of awesome human beings, and I’m sad to see them go,” said head coach Patrick Walsh. “A lot of them had great careers.”
Bottari completed 15 of 26 passes for 176 yards, with four of those going to Loville for exactly 100 yards. He threw for just 57 in the teams’ first meeting, and though the entire team ran for just 69 yards in that game, Nate Sanchez alone ran for 76 on 14 carries.
“This group has a lot of pride and a lot of fight,” said Walsh.
While replacing Bottari, Lahlouh and others will be a tall order, Loville and Sanchez will both be back next year for their senior seasons.