Any St. Joseph fans looking for an answer to what happened in the Knights' loss to Paso Robles can ask Leo Kemp.
The Paso Robles running back felt he had a pretty good explanation after the Bearcats upset the reigning Mountain League champs 26-21 Friday night, avenging a 41-0 loss the Knights put on the Bearcats during the spring season.
"Ultimately, we respected them and they didn't respect us," Kemp said. "That's what it came down to. They know they're St. Joe's and they're a damn good football team, but they knew they were going to beat us. They didn't respect us. We respected them, they didn't respect us and it showed."
The loss slows down any momentum the Knights had after coming into the contest on a two-game win streak. St. Joseph is now 2-4 on the season and 0-1 in league heading into next week's game at Arroyo Grande (4-2). The Eagles have won four straight.
St. Joseph coach Pepe Villaseñor certainly respected Paso Robles after Friday night's game.
"I tip my hat to Paso Robles; their coaching staff, their kids," Villaseñor said. "They came in here and played strong. We need to take care of the ball. There were a lot of missed assignments and we need to be fundamentally better before anything else."
This is the first league loss for St. Joseph since 2017 and the first league loss for Villaseñor, who's in his fourth season with the Knights and had gone 12-0 in league games prior to Friday’s loss.
There were points throughout Friday night's game where it looked like St. Joseph would come out victorious.
After falling behind 7-0, the Knights scored on back-to-back Carter Vargas touchdowns to go up 14-7.
Vargas, a sophomore, scored on a 19-yard run to make the score 7-6 after a failed point-after try. Vargas then scored after slipping out of the backfield and catching a 21-yard pass from fellow sophomore Caden Cuccia. The Knights went for two and converted after Cuccia ran, was hit at the goal line and fumbled, with Malakai Langley recovering the loose ball in the end zone for two points.
The Knights entered halftime up 14-7. After a 30-minute intermission saw St. Joseph senior Tui Auau named Homecoming queen, the Knights came out flat in the second half.
Paso Robles got a spark when quarterback Trevon Bridewell lofted a 50-yard pass to tight end Bastiaan Jaureguy on the opening drive of the third quarter. On that play, a St. Joseph defensive back had Jaureguy covered, but misplayed the ball in the air and Jaureguy caught it and ran. Bridewell scored on a 7-yard run on the next play to tie the game at 14.
The Knights' offense sputtered and Paso Robles got the ball right back. A strong Kemp run got the Bearcats near the 10 and a few plays later Kemp pounded his way into the end zone from five yards out to give Paso Robles a 20-14 lead after the PAT failed.
With Darian Mensah at quarterback, the Knights drove to the Bearcat 20. Facing a 4th-and-6, Villaseñor elected to go for it and the move paid off, with Mensah throwing a 20-yard scoring strike to Chris Miller on a play that electrified the St. Joseph crowd. Kailah Lopez's kick put the Knights up 21-20.
The St. Joseph defense forced a Paso Robles punt, giving the Knights even more momentum. That momentum, however, evaporated in an instant. The Knights fumbled the ball away on the very next play and the Bearcats recovered, taking over at the St. Joseph 39. Paso Robles didn't go anywhere initially, eventually facing a 3rd-and-17 from the St. Joseph 46.
But again, the St. Joseph secondary faltered. Jaureguy slipped right down the seam, through the middle of the St. Joseph defense, and Bridewell hit him with a well-placed pass for 26 yards and a first down.
Jake Morones scored on a 4-yard run a few plays later to put the Bearcats up 26-21. They went for two and the run failed with Andrew Cecchi and Anthony Moreno blowing up the sweep run in the backfield.
Miller gave St. Joseph a boost with a huge return on the ensuing kick, taking it from his own 20 to the Paso Robles 30. The Knights ran Mensah, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound quarterback, all the way inside the Bearcat 10. The Knights had a 4th-and-goal from the 5, before an offsides penalty on Paso Robles set up the climactic finale: 4th-and-goal from the 2 1/2-yard line.
Cuccia re-entered the game at quarterback and the Knights dialed up a jump ball from Cuccia to tight end Joaquin Cuevas. At first, it looked like the play had a chance, but Cuevas didn't quite meet the ball at the top of his jump, allowing the ball to get batted by Paso Robles' Hayden McKanna and eventually intercepted by Brandon Bonham, who took a knee in the end zone.
Paso Robles then ran out the clock and celebrated on St. Joseph's field, putting a damper on the Knights' Homecoming.
"Man, dude, from last year, losing 41-0, to coming out here and winning on their turf, on their Homecoming, and leaving them on a foggy night to be sad, Paso Robles couldn't be any happier right now," Kemp said.
Still, after a lackluster 2-4 start, Villaseñor feels his team has the talent to finally put it all together on the field this season.
"We definitely have that next gear," said the fourth-year coach, who has won three straight Mountain League titles. "If we take care of the football and play assignment football, we come out victorious in this game and any other game. We're going to find out what we're made of and we're going to see if we can fight through adversity. I do believe these young men will be able to do that."