ST. HELENA – Unfinished drives may have been the story down the stretch in St. Helena’s 28-14 loss to Kelseyville Friday night, but the Saints didn’t do themselves any favors in the first half, either.

From the final seconds of the first quarter to halftime, the Knights showed why they’re touted as North Central League I championship contenders as they built what proved to be an insurmountable 21-0 advantage.

“Nobody on our team gave a poor effort in any stretch of the imagination,” said Saints head coach Brandon Farrell. “We were just lost out there in the first half, and those plays really magnify when you miss opportunities like we did. And honestly, I gave them the first touchdown. My own stupidity, they did that last year and picked off one on a third-down play. It was a stupid play-call.”

Farrell was referring to the turnover that sparked three Kelseyville touchdowns on three consecutive possessions.

Late in the first quarter at their own 19, Saints (1-1 overall, 0-1 NCL I) quarterback Christian Cia rolled out of the pocket on third down, looking for his receiver just past the marker on the right sideline. He failed to spot the middle linebacker underneath, though, and threw it right at Knights (2-0 overall, 1-0 NCL I) senior Patrick Mick, who returned the gift-wrapped interception to the Saints’ 5-yard line.

Mick (12 carries, 67 yards, TD) broke the scoreless deadlock three plays later on a 1-yard touchdown run up the middle.

On Kelseyville’s next offensive series, a defensive breakdown allowed Adrian Villalobos to sneak behind the Saints’ secondary, and Knights QB Alex Garcia found him wide open for an easy 36-yard TD.

In the waning minutes of the first half, Mick broke free on a 35-yard run to set up his second rushing touchdown of the night – this one from 3 yards out.

The deficit might have been even greater had the Saints’ defense not held its ground, bailing out the offense after it coughed it up on the ensuing drive on a high snap.

So, with the defense on its heels and the offense completely out of sync, the Saints went into halftime staring adversity and the possibility of an even harsher reality square in the face.

And when the second half began, they showed some resiliency for the first time.

“We told the kids in front of the weight room (at halftime), ‘We’re going to have to win 50 out of 60 plays here in the second half and there’s no room for error,’” Farrell recalled. “It sure looked like we were right there (up) to the challenge to do that, and I’m happy with … how they performed in the second half.”

After forcing a three-and-out, Saints running back Casey Walker (19 carries, 116 yards) ripped through the heart of the Knights’ defense for 47 yards on the home team’s first offensive snap of the third quarter. That run doubled as the longest gain of the night – for both sides. Cia scored on a 1-yard keeper on the next play.

On Kelseyville’s next possession, St. Helena’s defense forced a punt, which Bryan Carrillo mishandled and ended up throwing an incomplete pass to turn it over on downs.

The Saints’ capitalized on the good field position. An 18-yard completion to Ryan Rockwood (five receptions, 53 yards) helped set up another Cia sneak for six points. The Saints senior finished the night 10 of 20 for 106 yards passing and had two interceptions.

Once again, the defense rose to the challenge and forced the Knights’ offense to another three-and-out, and suddenly the belief swelled throughout Patterson Memorial Field’s faithful.

Early in the fourth quarter, the offense continued to click and moved the ball inside the Kelseyville 10-yard line, with first-and-goal from the 8. But a flurry of unsuccessful runs forced St. Helena to settle for a 22-yard field goal attempt, which Luis Robledo missed.

After two more possession changes, including another empty possession for the Saints inside Knights’ territory, the visitors manufactured the only offense they needed to seal the win. Villalobos got free for a 42-yard scamper, and Jordi Lopez ran it in from 2 yards away with 3:42 remaining to give Kelseyville a decisive two-possession advantage.

“We got really tired towards the end, and they just never stopped,” said Walker, who was a big part of the stifling defense in the second half. “I know we could have beat them – we definitely could have beat them. But they just got the upper hand on us fast in the first quarter, second quarter, and we just couldn’t come back.”

Take away Villalobos’ gut-punch of a run, and the Saints only allowed 51 total yards and five first downs in the second half. They surrendered 257 total yards on the night.

On offense, St. Helena racked up 241 yards.

With the loss, the Saints are no longer in control of their own destiny. And if they have another first half like they did Friday night, they’ll be out of the championship discussion altogether.

“We definitely have the players and skill to beat any team, I think,” said Walker. “They just beat us today. They wanted it more.”

St. Helena JV 20, Kelseyville 0

The Saints (2-0 overall, 1-0 NCL I) recorded a shutout win thanks to another strong showing from Cody Ditomaso, who flashed his home run ability with a TD run that went over 60 yards. He finished with two rushing TDs.

Caleb Granados reeled in a 35-yard TD reception to round out the scoring for the home team.

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Yousef has been a sports reporter at the Napa Valley Register since February 2015, and hosts the Napa Register Radio podcast. He is a proud UGA graduate and has written for the Sacramento Bee, The Advocate and the Athens Banner-Herald, among others.