The Crusaders have been impressive thus far, with a well balanced squad outscoring their first three opponents by a combined score of 128-35.
But there is one big difference that the Warriors bring to the game — figuratively and literally — that the Crusaders’ other opponents did not.
“Unlike the other teams we’ve played, Hoopa has the size to compete with us,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said.
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The physical Warriors (1-1) are coming off a 24-7 win at home to Etna, turning in a far improved performance from their season opener the week before.
“I thought they looked a lot better in their second game,” said Tomlin, whose players won’t be taking anything for granted in Saturday’s game. “They really ran their offense better.”
Challenges on both sides of the ball
The Crusaders (3-0) will present the visitors with plenty of challenges themselves, on both sides of the ball.
With a pair of dominating lines, anchored by senior team MVP Connor Chase, St. Bernard’s features several linemen who have come together as effectively as the coaching staff could have hoped for this soon.
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Quarterback Will Omey is also enjoying a stellar season thus far, passing or running for 13 of the Crusaders’ 19 TDs.
Against Arcata a week ago, Omey ran for touchdowns on the team’s opening three possessions, giving him seven rushing scores on the season.
He also leads the team with 466 yards rushing yards, an average of more than 150 a game.
The bruising Talimaivao Fonoti has also been a handful for opposing defenses grinding out the tough yards for the Crusaders, and opening up the game for receivers Lane Thrap, Luke Fairfield, Sebastian Taylor and Justin Hagler, who collectively provide Omey with plenty of options.
And the big-play making ability of these players hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I think the explosive plays offensively,” Tomlin said, when asked what has impressed him most about his team this season. “I didn’t know if we had that capability. But we’ve definitely been prone to scoring long touchdowns. And defensively, we’ve played pretty physical.”
The passing game, however, is something the Crusaders have been working on improving.
“We’ve been running the ball outstanding, but we’ve got to get better throwing the ball,” the coach added.
Dominating run against L4 teams
Likewise, Hoopa has impressed running the ball, taking advantage of a physical line and a physical running back.
Senior Kimit Peters has carried much of the load in the backfield behind a strong offensive line.
And after last week’s win over Etna, head coach William Simms could clearly see the improvement from his players from week one to week two.
“We did some of the little things correctly, like tackling, blocking assignments, and stuff like that,” Simms said. “Doing a lot of the little wrong results in a loss, doing them right is a win.”
The Warriors will have to do a lot of the little things just right to have any chance of knocking off the dominating Crusaders, who have not lost to Little 4 opposition since 2013, a span of 26 straight games.
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And they present numerous challenges to the underdog Warriors.
“St. Bernard’s is going to onside kick us all the time, and we’ve got to be ready for that,” Simms said. “We’ve got to pick up the blitz on offense. They blitz a lot, they’re very aggressive. And we have to play sound defense.”
Omey presents a particular challenge.
“They’ve got a quarterback who can run the ball pretty well, and he can throw,” the Hoopa coach said.
Saturday’s game is set for 1 p.m. at Crusader Field.