By Ray Hamill — The Crusaders’ offensive line turned in a dominating performance in the season opener at home to El Molino on Saturday, as St. Bernard’s ran out to a commanding 40-14 victory.
Led by senior center Connor Chase, the line paved the way for a plethora of offensive weapons and the many options available to head coach Matt Tomlin and his staff.
None more so that Will Omey, making his first start at quarterback and quickly establishing himself with a pair of touchdown runs and two TD passes.
“I’m excited about the way they played, because with so much turnover on the roster I didn’t know what to expect,” Tomlin said. “I was really thrilled with the play of the offensive line. They were physical, they pushed people around, and they made me proud.”
With the O-line setting the tone early, the Crusaders took control quickly, finding the end zone on five of their six first-half possessions and ending the game as a competitive spectacle well before halftime.
The visiting Lions outscored the home side 14-6 in the second half with some late mistakes from the home team and a couple of fourth-quarter turnovers, but overall it was a very strong start to the season for St. Bernard’s.
“I thought we came out strong in the first half,” Omey said. “But in the second half we had some blown coverage and I didn’t throw the ball as good as I’d have liked today. But we got a win.”
The Crusaders unveiled a stable of offensive weapons, with five different players accounting for their six touchdowns.
In addition to Omey’s two TD runs, Luke Fairfield had a 50-yard TD reception, Lane Thrap pulled in a spectacular 29-yard catch in the corner of the end zone, and Sebastian Taylor rounded out the first-half onslaught 20 seconds before the interval with a 36-yard TD reception from senior Logan Simoni. (For more on Simoni’s performance, Plenty of options for SB at quarterback.)
Justin Hagler added the final St. Bernard’s TD of the game on a 10-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
“We have a lot of weapons, especially at receiver,” Omey said. “But our main weapon is going to be (running back) Talimaivao Fonoti. He’s going to be unstoppable.”
Fonoti , a 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior back, certainly announced his presence, and while he didn’t find the end zone, he had a good game, wearing the Lions defense down and sustaining drive after drive with consistent five or six yard gains.
“The one thing we have is versatility, and I thought we did a good job of distributing the ball,” Tomlin said.
The Crusaders came out of the gates on fire, utilizing a high tempo, quick-paced offense to march 66 yards on four plays, capped by Fairfield’s breakaway score from 50 yards out.
The trio of Chase (snap), Omey (hold) and Thrap (kick) added the PAT, the first of four on the day.
The Crusaders followed that with an onside kick, recovered by Connor Petrusha, to keep possession at midfield, and quickly drove 52 yards for a second score, a five-yard Omey run.
Before the visitors had even seen the ball, they were trailing 14-0.
And things were about to get worse. On the very next play, Taylor intercepted the ball to give the Crusaders possession once again.
A quick four-and-out handed the ball right back to the visitors on downs, however, the only time the Crusaders were stopped for the half.
On their next possession, they marched 82 yards on 11 plays, culminating in Thrap’s 29-yard scoring catch.
On the following possession, the Crusaders drove 79 yards on 10 plays, capped by Omey’s second scoring run of the day, this time from six yards out.
And that dominance all began with the offensive line setting the tone early.
“Connor Chase, our center, I thought he was outstanding,” Tomlin said of the four-year starter. “Not just the big blocks and pushing people around, but hearing the calls he made. He’s just a tremendous leader.”