(Update – the first game between these two schools was reportedly played in 1962 and not in the late 1960s as originally reported.)
By Ray Hamill — On Saturday night Eureka High and St. Bernard’s will begin a new chapter in their crosstown rivalry, when the two schools meet on the football field for the first time since 1962.
The rare showdown between the two programs comes about after St. Bernard’s moved up to the Big 4 this season in a realignment of the Humboldt-Del Norte League, pitting them against their bigger neighbors for just the second time ever.
That first game between the two schools was a non-senior varsity game.
Current St. Bernard’s assistant baseball coach and long-time local baseball legend Greg Shanahan lined out for St. Bernard’s in the game, which ended in a 12-12 tie.
But St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin believes this weekend could be the beginning of a new rivalry between the two programs.
“A lot of these kids played together in youth football, and there’s a lot of friendships out there,” Tomlin said. “This could be a special rivalry if the two teams show respect for each other on Saturday night and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
The Loggers come into the showdown as big favorites to win the league title, with a deep, talented and senior-laden lineup.
And Tomlin is expecting a battle.
“This Eureka team is special,” he said. “This is a team that definitely has a chance at winning a state championship this year and making a run.”
The Loggers are 7-0 and have knocked off some quality opponents along the way, dominating in just about every game.
With largely the same group of players who won the Big 5 a year ago, the Loggers are 18-1 dating back to the start of last season.
Led by senior quarterback Cruz Montana, the Eureka players are savoring the moment right now and looking forward to competing for a second straight league title.
Omey presents a challenge
The Crusaders, meanwhile, have had a mixed season.
They came out of the starting gates on fire, winning their first five games, before stalling in recent weeks and dropping tough road games at Marin Catholic and Tri-Cities Prep in Washington.
Still, the Crusaders present plenty of challenges for the home team, especially behind center.
“Their quarterback is able to extend the play and run the ball, and he obviously presents a challenge,” Eureka head coach Jason White said of junior Will Omey. “Anytime you get a quarterback that’s a dual threat, that gives you an extra player you have to account for on defense.”
Omey has benefitted from a balanced Crusaders lineup on both sides of the ball, and one that features several playmakers and a big, physical line that has come together as quickly as anyone could have hoped for this season.
It all begins, however, with the QB, who has 1,258 yards and 17 touchdowns passing, as well as 888 yards and another 11 TDs rushing.
In total, he has been involved in 28 of his team’s 39 offensive TDs.
White, however, expects his defense to be up for the challenge.
“We need to play Logger defense like we have all year,” he said. “And create opportunities and get some turnovers.”
Mullins ‘one of the best’ at his position
The Loggers certainly have been creating turnovers this season, with 13 different players combining for 22 takeaways, an average of more than three a game.
Leading the way on that deep and talented Eureka defense is senior Tyce Mullins, who Tomlin believes is one of the best at his position he has ever seen at this level.
“What stands out about the Eureka defense to me is Tyce Mullins,” the St. Bernard’s head coach said. “He’s something special. He’s one of the best true middle linebackers I’ve ever seen … He makes plays from sideline to sideline.”
Mullins has been a force this season and leads the team with 73 tackles (49 solo), almost twice as many as anyone else.
He also has a remarkable 19 tackles for a loss.
Eureka will likely be without senior running back Alex Miller for Saturday’s game, after he suffered an ankle injury in the win over Livermore two weeks ago.
Miller, who has 339 yards rushing on 57 carries and five total touchdowns, was able to practice a couple of days this week, but will be held out more for precautionary reasons.
“It’s nothing serious, we’re just trying to be careful,” White said. “We’ve got to look at the long picture, and we’ve got enough depth, we’re going to be fine.”
NCS seedings up for grabs in B4
Win or lose this weekend, St. Bernard’s North Coast Section playoff seeding will be decided in the crucial games against both Del Norte (6-1) and Fortuna (5-2) in the coming weeks.
All three are currently ranked in the top six in Division IV, with Fortuna No. 2 (behind Moreau Catholic), Del Norte fifth and St. Bernard’s sixth.
Del Norte and Fortuna will play each other in the Big 4 opener in Crescent City on Friday night.
“I’m really using this game to prepare my team for Fortuna and Del Norte,” Tomlin said of this week’s clash. “Those games carry so much importance for the postseason.”