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Notre Dame in Standoff

Mission League: Knights stop Milton at two-yard line on final play to pull out 13-7 victory.


LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — It was the kind of dramatic, nerve-racking finish that football players live for.

There were four seconds left, and St. Francis High had the ball on the 2 1/2-yard line.

Score a touchdown, and St. Francis would win the Mission League championship. Get stopped and Notre Dame would be champions.

Coach Jim Bonds decided to give the ball to tailback Matt Milton and have him run off the right side behind 300-pound linemen Ricky Valenzuela and Bobby Garafolo.

The most unlikely of Notre Dame heroes, sophomore defensive tackle Alex Puccinelli, met Milton head on and immediately dropped him to the turf with help from Carlos Gonzalez as time expired, preserving Notre Dame's 13-7 victory Friday night.

"Oh my gosh," said Coach Kevin Rooney of Notre Dame (8-0-1, 2-0 in league play). "Geez, that was unbelievable."

Puccinelli was hit on the side of his head on the first play and didn't return until the third quarter.

"He got knocked senseless, but he's always senseless," defensive coordinator Joe McNab said.

So there was a less than totally clear Puccinelli facing the best St. Francis (6-2, 1-1) could offer.

"I kind of had an idea," Puccinelli said. "I just tried to sneak my way through."

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 4,000 watched St. Francis rally from a 10-0 halftime deficit behind the punishing running of Milton and the clutch passing of John Sciarra.

Milton rushed for 137 yards in 31 carries. Sciarra, who had two passes intercepted while struggling in the first half, completed 11 of 13 passes for 112 yards in the final two quarters. He finished 18 of 30 for 171 yards.

St. Francis got back into the game thanks to two crucial halftime adjustments made by Bonds. He put Valenzuela and Garafolo next to each other on the line and went to a two-back offense. Suddenly, St. Francis started to pound the ball behind Milton.

"We had a hard time stopping them," Rooney said.

On the opening possession of the second half, Milton carried the ball 12 consecutive times before being stopped on fourth down by cornerback Michael Luderer on the Notre Dame 15-yard line.

St. Francis got the ball back and drove 92 yards in 16 plays, scoring with 6:47 left on Brett Mitchell's four-yard pass to Sciarra on a trick play.

Notre Dame moved on top, 13-7, with 2:36 left when Ryan Allen connected on a 27-yard field goal, his second of the game.

Sciarra, who has committed to UCLA, droved St. Francis down field in an effective two-minute drill against the best defense in the region. He connected on a 23-yard pass play to Jared Vandercook and a 17-yard pass to Nathan Terrazone.

With time running out, Notre Dame was called for pass interference on third-and-goal from the five with four seconds left.

"We had 2 1/2 yards to go," Bonds said. "We thought we'd try to power the ball behind our 300-pound guys. They stuffed us."

Notre Dame held a 10-0 halftime lead thanks to the trickery of Jim Sharp. Twice Sciarra fired passes to what he thought were open receivers, only Sharp suckered him into thinking they were open and intercepted.

Sharp's first interception set up a a two-yard touchdown run by Miguel Armendariz.

In the second quarter, Sharp's 33-yard interception return to the St. Francis 12 led to Allen's 45-yard field goal.

Coverage Inside

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