Mack Mrowka’s third-quarter interception for St. Francis is the game-changer in the WCAL clash.
The St. Francis High defense grew in strength and confidence with each hit, tackle, and disruption.
The Lancers could savor a defensive effort that helped keep them in the West Catholic Athletic League race after a 24-14 victory over visiting Valley Christian on Friday night.
Mack Mrowka’s third-quarter interception of a pass that appeared to be a Valley game-winner was crucial, and the Lancers (5-3 overall) moved to 4-1 in the WCAL and within striking distance of Serra and Riordan, who both have 4-0 records.
“The most important thing about this game was demonstrating how good our defense really is,” said sophomore middle linebacker Shane Cahoon, who came into the game averaging 12 tackles per game and made several key plays down the stretch.
Valley Christian (5-3, 2-3) found itself in a crucial game late in the season after going 1-9 and winless in league play in 2022 while starting 10 sophomores and a freshman. Not only are the Warriors more mature and experienced, but they’ve also revamped their offense. They still use elements of their traditional Wing-T, but now from a “pistol,” a spread attack with a greater emphasis on the passing game.
Valley quarterback James Stephens completed eight of 19 passes for 157 yards and led a second-quarter touchdown drive that tied the game at 7-7 with 6:06 remaining. However, St. Francis held the Warriors to only two first downs the rest of the way.
“The coaches prepared us so that we could read something and know what was going to come our way,” Mrowka said in a statement. “We knew when they ran it and when they passed it, whether because of the formation or the personnel in the game.” We discussed it after we read it and figured it out.”
Even so, the game was hanging in the balance as Stephens’ pass hung in the air. When the Warriors’ quarterback saw Kai Hamilton open deep, St. Francis led 14-7. The receiver leaped after returning for a slightly underthrown ball. Mrowka, on the other hand, leaped higher and snatched the interception. The Lancers were in the end zone two plays later, as Perrion Williams split two defenders to catch a 38-yard pass from Adam Knapp, giving St. Francis a 21-7 lead.
Mrowka stated that on the crucial play, St. Francis was in a run defense.
“They had two tight ends,” said the free safety. “I was reading a tight end and blocked down, so I could work over to one receiver.” “I read his eyes, saw him launch into the air, and attempted to steal it.”
He did, in fact.
When Valley Christian coach Mike Machado reviewed the play on an iPad on the sidelines, he noticed Stephens was hit as he threw, causing the ball to be short and slightly inside.
“We thought we had a good shot at that one,” Machado admitted.
Cahoon dropped running back Ekiah McLemore for a loss on Valley’s next possession, and a pair of incompletions forced a punt, which St. Francis’ Kingston Keanaaina returned 68 yards to the Valley Christian 5-yard line. This set up Christopher Han’s 24-yard field goal for a 24-7 lead.
Cahoon was a freshman who was called up to the varsity for the playoffs and came into his first full varsity season with zeal. At linebacker, he and his younger brother, Jackson Cahoon, have developed into a potent defensive duo.
“He’s the best,” said Mrowka of Chase. “He’s so young, but he’s become our defense’s leader.” He’s the quarterback and the play-caller. He’s very physical and aggressive, and he always makes the correct call. “There is no hesitation.”
Cahoon attributes his ability to make plays to his game preparation as much as his physical ability.
“I’ve been busting my butt every single day in the off-season and that’s why I’ve done so well on the field,” Cahoon said in a statement. “However, what works for me are the ‘tells’ they give. One of my strengths is that I can predict plays based on what the linemen will do or where the running back will look. “I just have a feeling I know where the ball will be.”
Keanaaina was responsible for 118 of the Lancers’ 119 rushing yards. In addition, the junior surpassed 1,000 yards for the season.
Valley Christian believes “We made too many mistakes,” Machado admitted, “but I’m overjoyed with our team’s progress.” They’ve worked extremely hard, and I’m extremely proud of them. We’ll just keep moving and pushing forward. We’ve always done it that way.”