Halting Santa Fe Christian running back Tony Miro is a defensive key for Francis Parker.
Francis Parker emerged from a double-overtime thriller against defending champion Christian with a 27-24 victory last week in the San Diego Section Division V semifinals.
The reward: a date with Santa Fe Christian at Escondido High on Friday for the crown — the Lancers’ fourth appearance in the Division V final in five seasons.
“This was probably our third or fourth big fourth quarter or game-winning victory with a big emotional pull,” Parker quarterback Gabe Harrington said. “We’ve rebounded strong from each of them, which gives us a huge boost for the upcoming game. We can draw on those experiences.”
The last leg of the road was challenging.
Mason Powell blasted a 43-yard field goal to give the Patriots a 24-21 lead in the second overtime period, placing Parker (8-4) and its season on the hot seat.
It didn’t matter.
Down three and battling a billow of fog engulfing Lauer Field, Harrington took over. The 6-foot-4 senior quarterback, who had already tossed three touchdown passes on the night, unloaded a rocket down the sideline.
The football landed safely in the back of the end zone in Hank Child’s hands, ending the game.
“We liked our chances,” Francis Parker coach John Morrison said after the game.
Morrison and Parker like their chances against Santa Fe Christian (9-3), too, though the 2011 runners-up Eagles defeated them 35-17 in the final week of the regular season.
That loss halted a three-game winning streak for the Lancers, who clawed back into the playoff picture, winning three of their remaining four games after starting the season 3-3.
“We’ve really learned how to play to each other’s strengths during that period,” Childs said. “As the season goes on, we figure out what players do well and what players don’t do well. The team built upon on those strengths. It’s helped our defense and running game.”
To reverse the outcome and capture a Division V crown for the first time since 2009, Parker must find a way to stymie the Eagles’ Wing-T offense.
It’s predicated on misdirection and fakes. Speared by junior fullback Tony Miro and senior quarterback Hunter Vaccaro, Santa Fe Christian averages 287 yards per game on the ground.
Those two helped the Eagles compile 259 yards and four rushing touchdowns against Parker on Nov. 2 and 403 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-35 victory over fourth-seeded Horizon (8-4) last week to advance to the title game.
“They’re a phenomenal program and have been for years,” Morrison said. “They’re very adept at forcing you to overcompensate or line up a certain way and then they come back the other way to hurt you.”
Despite running only a handful of different plays, the offense poses challenges to opposing defensive coordinators because of the amount of different looks Santa Fe Christian gives.
“They run it out of so many formations and shifts that it looks like they’re running a playbook that’s composed of a thousand different plays,” Morrison said.
Offensively, Parker stands toe-to-toe with the Eagles.
The potent spread attack, led by Harrington and Childs, causes matchup nightmares and produces 170 yards per game. The Lancers receive balance from junior running back Jesse Brookins, who has compiled 1,242 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
Childs says a heavier dose of the passing game Friday could be the difference this time around.
“Our offense has improved tremendously with each week, so we feel we can take advantage and exploit their back end,” he said. “Some aggressive play-calling may be able to hit them deep a couple of times and demoralize them.”"