For the first seven minutes of Friday's game against Arroyo Grande, St. Joseph looked like itself.
The Knights looked pretty darn good in the game’s other 40 minutes, too, but their dominant opening propelled them to a 39-21 win at Arroyo Grande, snapping the Eagles’ four-game win streak.
St. Joseph struck on the very first play of the game, with sophomore running back Malakai Langley racing past the Arroyo Grande defense on an 80-yard touchdown run.
The Knights (3-4, 1-1 Mountain League) would score twice more in the opening quarter, taking a 21-0 lead in the game’s first 7:16.
It was not all good for St. Joseph Friday night, though. Senior Chris Miller, a two-way standout, suffered a major leg injury not long after the Knight scored their third touchdown.
Play was stopped for about 20 minutes as trainers secured Miller's injured left leg with an air cast. An ambulance arrived and Miller was taken away to an area hospital.
St. Joseph coach Pepe Villaseñor said Miller underwent surgery Friday night and his season is certainly over. Miller, who also starred at Righetti High, was in only his third game with the Knights after sitting out the first half of the season due to CIF transfer rules.
As of Monday afternoon, Miller's surgery went well and he was set to be released from the hospital Monday night.
"Unfortunately his season is done, but our kids, our school and our community will rally around him," Villaseñor said. "He's an incredible young man and he has an incredible future ahead of him."
Miller is also one of the area's top baseball players.
St. Joseph had won the last three Mountain League titles in Villaseñor's first three seasons in Orcutt. But the Knights suffered the first league loss under their fourth-year head coach last week, falling to Paso Robles 26-21 at home.
The Knights went 5-0 in the spring, dominating every Mountain League team in their path. But the Knights have had an up-and-down fall season.
Arroyo Grande came into the game riding a four-game win streak and had begun to shape up as a Mountain League title contender.
That unraveled quickly Friday.
Arroyo Grande coach Mike Hartman felt his group was unable to grasp St. Joseph's speed and unable to match the Knights' physicality.
"Those are two things we can't simulate in practice,” he said. “We can line up in their formations and we can talk about what it is, but until you see it... we just had to adjust and it took us a while."
Hartman was able to put Friday's loss into the proper context. "I think we've still got the same league record as them, so I don't think that any of our goals are no longer out of reach."
The Eagles' best chance to make up ground in the league standings may come against Paso Robles, which improved to 2-0 in league games with a 19-12 win over Nipomo Friday.
The Eagles play at Righetti (1-5, 1-1) next week. They then host rival Nipomo (6-1, 2-1) before finishing the regular season with a home game against Paso Robles.
"It's a game. The sun is going to come up in the morning... it'll be OK," Hartman said. "Right? We'll get back to work and we'll get prepared for Righetti. Win or lose, it doesn't change how we do things. Our kids aren't going to want to workout more or less after this game. We do what we do. It's OK. We want to win every game, but that's not the reality."
The game was especially important for a number of St. Joseph players, including senior Travis Royal, who transferred from Arroyo Grande before his junior season. Royal intercepted two passes, including one in the red zone and another that sealed the win in the fourth quarter.
"I was playing against a lot of my friends, a lot of people that I played with my freshman and sophomore years," Royal said. "It's a lot of fun to come out here and see all my boys and compete against them. They're a great team, I'm just glad we came out with a win."
Royal felt the game was decided by how the Knights' offensive line, led by Makai Sat, Aaron Guggia, Jorge Hernandez and Erwin Taomi, set the tone early.
"They were opening up big holes for our running backs to run through," Royal said. "First play of the game, 'house call,' and everything else fell into place."
As one of Miller's teammates, Royal feels the team will re-group after losing one of its leaders.
"Our hearts are heavy for him, we all love Chris," Royal said. "He works his butt off and he's just a great kid. He loves to play football and it sucks to see something happen to a kid like that. But I think we'll be able to rally around him. He'll still be a valuable part of our team and we all love him and our prayers are up for him."
St. Joseph led 27-14 at halftime and Arroyo Grande couldn’t quite make it a one-score game throughout the second half. Langley and Vargas both had two touchdown runs in the first half.
Anthony Moreno’s 22-yard touchdown run gave the Knights a 33-14 lead after three quarters. A Damian Santos touchdown catch cut the Knights’ lead to 33-21, but Langley returned the ensuing kick past midfield and sophomore Caden Cuccia scored on a quarterback sneak to put the Knights up 39-21.
Arroyo Grande scored on touchdown passes from Max Perrett to Damian Santos and Max Wulff. Perrett ran for a score for the Eagles' other touchdown.
The game was also a memorable one for St. Joseph senior Mark Crisp. The quarterback suffered a torn ACL the last time the Knights played at Arroyo Grande in the spring season on March 26. Crisp has quickly worked his way back onto the field and handled the quarterbacking duties on the final series of the game after Royal’s interception in the end zone.
“Mark has been a staple of our program since I’ve been here and for him to be able to step on the field after suffering a torn ACL earlier this year is incredible,” Villaseñor. “He could possibly get to play even more as the season progresses. It’s something we’re very excited about.”
The Knights are set to play at Nipomo on Thursday night at 7 p.m. They close out the season with games against Pioneer Valley and Righetti.