It was almost too easy for St.Francis de Sales at the start of its first-round Division II playoff game against Bedford.
Then, suddenly, the ninth-ranked Knights found themselves ahead just 14-7 midway in the third quarter and concluded it was time to wake up.
That alarm was heard loud and clear as St. Francis responded with 27 points in a span of 8:19 to take a 41-7 victory at Waite's Mollenkopf Stadium.
The victory sets up a rematch of the City League's top teams - league champion St. Francis (9-1) and runner-up Central Catholic (9-2) - Friday night at a site to be determined. The Irish, who lost 16-8 to the Knights last week, topped visiting Amherst Steele 21-10 last night.
St. Francis needed just 16 seconds to take a 7-0 lead after standout Bearcat fullback Dustin Calloway (1,507 rushing yards, 19 TDs coming in) lost a fumble at his 18 on the opening kickoff return.
Nathan Calcamuggio dropped a wide-open pass from Tom Donovan in the end zone on the first play, but Knight back Rodney Gamby (25 carries, 229 yards) picked him up with an 18-yard touchdown run on the next play.
Following a punt, Gamby set up the next score with a 39-yard run to the Bedford 29. Calcamuggio atoned himself with a 29-yard TD reception for a 14-0 Knight lead with 7:06 left in the first quarter.
St. Francis drove toward a third first-quarter TD before Gamby was stopped short on fourth-and-1 from the Cat 9 with 1:09 left in the quarter.
For the next 24:44, the Knight offense sputtered in neutral before finding overdrive late in the third quarter.
Bedford scored 2:25 into the third quarter when Alex Stewart blocked Jim Laney's punt and Greg Boone caught the ball and bolted 48 yards for a TD.
“We hit 'em early with a couple and then we had fourth-and-1 and don't make it,” Knight coach Dick Cromwell said of his team's lull. “They hung around, blocked a punt, and it's 14-7. Then we kind of turned it on, wore 'em down, and pulled away.
“I wouldn't say we got cocky. They just rose up, stopped us, and turned it into a ballgame.”
The Knights marched 82 yards on 11 plays late in the third, with Gamby's six-yard TD run and David Kramp's third PAT kick making it 21-7 with 25 seconds left in the quarter.
That opened the flood gates.
Gamby (1,618 yards and 22 TDs in 10 games) went 48 yards for a score with 10:36 remaining.
A big hit by junior Knight linebacker John Lonchyna caused Cat quarterback Ryan Cole to fumble, and Knight middle guard Ryan Lamy recovered at the Bedford 24. A play later, David Schrader bolted 17 yards for a TD at 9:36.
“Everybody got a little nervous,” Lonchyna said of his team's mood after the blocked punt. “But we just decided to start playing better, to start playing St. Francis football, and things went our way.”
After failing to convert on fourth down deep in its own territory, Bedford left St.Francis 12 yards shy of the end zone, and third-team back Eric Sutton scored from a yard out with 4:06 to play.
“At halftime I was just thinking of ways how to get in there,” junior defensive end Steve Fender said of his pass rush on Cole and Bedford's 16 net yards after halftime. “I got a better hop on (Cole) in the third quarter and got my hands up.
“We knew the offense was clicking along, and the defense knew we just had to keep that 7 on the board. This feels great because we lost in the first round the last two years.”
The St. Francis defense held Bedford to 124 total yards, including 87 rushing yards on 40 attempts. Calloway had 58 yards on 15 rushes, with 40 coming on one second-quarter run.
“That's a very good football team,” Bedford coach Jim Hodakievic said, “and defense has been their thing all year. We were missing a couple starters, but that doesn't take away anything from what St. Francis has defensively.
“They ran to the ball, they've got good speed and they beat us up, up front. We would break one every now and then, but they would just tighten up. They beat us physically up front. They took us into the fourth quarter and just wore us down.”
The Knights cranked out 375 yards, 326 on the ground.