Last week was a wild night of survival of the fittest, and now just four remain in semifinal football playoffs

Last Friday was survival night for area football teams from the San Gabriel Valley, Whittier and Pasadena during the CIF Southern Section quarterfinals, leaving few teams to practice on Thanksgiving day.

When the night started there were 15 area teams vying for semifinal spots in eight different divisions, but when it was over, just three advanced to Friday’s semifinal games along with Covina, who punched its ticket on Thursday night.

There were heartbreakers all over the place.

Arroyo’s undefeated season came to an end on the road at Rancho Mirage in Division 11, losing in overtime, 27-21, against the same team it defeated in overtime last year to win the Division 12 title.

Also in Division 11, Arcadia blew a three touchdown lead to Katella, losing in overtime, 27-21.

Nogales, the second seed in Division 13, lost in double overtime on the road at Silver Valley.

South Hills, ranked No. 1 in Division 7 and Schurr, ranked No. 1 in Division 12, both had its seasons come to an unexpected end.

But the night wasn’t a total loss.

READ MORE: South El Monte’s versatility big reason to teams’ success

Charter Oak, St. Francis and South El Monte survived, and nothing was more gut-wrenching and exciting than Charter Oak’s incredible come-from-behind victory at Westlake, rallying from a 21-0 deficit to pull out a 39-28 victory to advance to Friday’s semifinals at Moreno Valley’s Rancho Verde.

Why was Charter Oak’s win so special? The Chargers are the top dogs in Division 3, are undefeated, and coach Lou Farrar, who has been around for four decades and won five championships, has never won coming behind like this.

Farrar said afterward this team has more heart than any team he’s ever been part of, and even for his longtime assistant like defensive coordinator Roger Lehigh, who has been there for more than 20 years, it was an emotional night he’ll never forget.

“It was the most dramatic game I’ve ever been a part of,” Lehigh said. “You saw us wear our heart on our sleeve. We’re an emotional group, a passionate group and we used words like ‘I love you’ and ‘fight the good fight.’

“The faith and belief in our program was tested like never before. It took every man, woman and child from the sidelines to the stands because part of the panic is you don’t want this journey to be over with. You’re fighting to live another day because you know what the struggle to get here is all about.

“You know, you want to be tested because adversity reveals character, and what we went through was powerful.”

Lehigh said the only positive following behind 21-0 was time.

“There was a lot of time left which allowed us to find a rhythm,” Lehigh said. “We made our adjustments then it was convincing the guys not to panic, just go one play, one series at a time and don’t get caught up trying to do it all at once, and that’s how we got back in it and gave ourselves a chance.”

St. Francis overcame an even bigger obstacle in the Division 3 playoffs, knocking off second seed Citrus Hill, 30-20, on the road thanks to a gutsy call by coach Jim Bonds in the fourth quarter to earn a home game in the semifinals on Friday against El Toro.

Leading 23-20, St. Francis lined up for a field goal on the nine yard line and faked it with Isaac Cordova throwing a touchdown pass to Conor McGrory for a 30-20 lead.

“That was a monster call,” Citrus Hill coach Eric Zamalt said afterward. “I thought we were going to hold them to a field goal and we’re going to go down and score and win 27-26. And this guy calls a fake? It was a great call.”

It was almost a call that never happened.

“We practice those fakes for several weeks and we watched film and we liked our chances if we got in the situation to go for it,” Bonds said. “The funny thing is, after we decided to go for it I didn’t like how they (Citrus Hill) lined up and I was starting to get cold feet. The ball is about to snap, and I was thinking are we do the right thing? I went to look for the side judge and was about to call timeout when the ball was snapped. We got away with one.”

For St. Francis and Bonds, the Golden Knights will play in their sixth semifinals since 2000, where Bonds will hope to end his 0-for-5 streak. St. Francis hasn’t played for a title since winning back-to-back championships in 1963 and ’64.

“We’ve hosted a few games Thanksgiving weekend,” Bonds said. “We’ll try to use this final home game to get it done. I’ve already started getting text messages from alumni and we’re expecting a huge crowd.”

And now, if Charter Oak and St. Francis both win on Friday, it will face each other in the championship with Charter Oak already winning the coin flip and being able to host the game at home or a nearby venue.

How about South El Monte in Division 12?

The Eagles’ season ended last year in the Division 13 semifinals to Rancho Christian and found themselves in another dogfight with the same team in the same situation, only in Division 12.

It went back and forth all night and South El Monte fell behind 35-28 entering the fourth quarter.

But quarterback Daniel Olmos not only threw two fourth quarter touchdowns to put the Eagles in front, but he also sealed the deal with an interception with 1:56 left to preserve a 42-35 victory.

Now all that stands in the way from South El Monte’s first championship appearance is Santa Maria, who has to make the long trip to South El Monte and beat the Eagles at the Swamp, which is no easy task.

All in all, it was a wild night. And if you were at the games or following on social media, you were probably talking about it all weekend.

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