By Ray Hamill — The big question facing the McKinleyville Panthers this week as they get set to play a tough St. Bernard’s squad seems like an obvious one to head coach Keoki Burbank, and one the Crusaders’ opponents will be asking all season.
“We’re trying to figure out ways to get around Chase,” Burbank said.
The Mack coach is talking about senior center/nose guard Connor Chase, a four-year starter who has developed into a force along the line.
And he’s the worst kind of force from an opponent’s point of view. He’s a force who reads the game as well as anybody and has matured into a standout team leader.
With Chase leading the way, the Crusaders dominated along both lines in their opener at home to El Molino, setting the tone early and scoring touchdowns on five of their six first-half possessions (Crusaders dominate El Molino in opener).
And finding a way to get around him will be key for the Panthers in Saturday’s game, which is set for 1 p.m.
Looking for more balance
With Chase and the offensive line opening up the holes, the Crusaders ran for 340 yards on 50 carries, a 6.8 average.
“It’s definitely a different style than what we’ve played in the past,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said.
Tomlin would like to see a more balanced offense, however, and the passing game was a priority at practice this week.
Last week the two quarterbacks – Will Omey and Logan Simoni – combined to complete 10-of-23 passes for 211, including three TDs.
Omey led the run game with 178 yards on 24 carries, including a pair of TDs, while junior running back Talimaivao Fonoti finished with 66 yards on 15 carries.
The Panthers, however, turned in a solid defensive performance in their opener at St. Vincent de Paul, an 18-0 loss, and will look to carry that momentum into Saturday’s clash.
Nate Ballew and Kyler Carr each had a fumble recovery, while teammate Caleb Martinez had an interception as the defense came up with several big plays, holding their opponents to just 214 yards total offense.
Stopping the run will be key this weekend, as well as maintaining drives, something the Panthers struggled with a week ago.
Like many coaches, Burbank will be looking for fewer mistakes and mental errors in week two after seeing several drives stall in the opener.
“The No. 1 thing that we’ve been really focusing on this week is not putting the ball on the ground,” the coach said. “We want to eliminate turnovers, and take care of the ball, and limit the penalties.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Burbank knows his players will have their hands full against a variety of St. Bernard’s offensive weapons, led by Omey.
“Omey is a great talent at quarterback, and they have a nice mix of receivers,” Burbank said. “Guys that can take any catch to the house.”
Junior Jack Patton will get the start at quarterback this week for the Panthers, after coming in last week in the second quarter for senior Rylin Grow.
The Panthers also welcomed back three players from injury/sickness this week, all of whom will be available for Friday’s game.
“That will give us more depth,” Burbank said.
Saturday’s game is set for 1 p.m. and will be broadcast live on Mix 95.1 FM and The Edge 106.7 FM.