By Ray Hamill — There’s plenty at stake in terms of North Coast Section playoff positioning on Saturday, when St. Bernard’s hosts Del Norte in the Big 4 finale.
Not to mention the fact that they may even be playing for a share of the Big 4 by then, if Fortuna can upset the high-flying Eureka Loggers on Friday night.
“There’s a lot on the line,” Del Norte head coach Lewis Nova said.
“It’s the biggest game of the season for us,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said.
Assuming Eureka completes a second straight undefeated regular season with an expected win at Fortuna, the Crusaders and Warriors will still be playing for seeding advantage in the NCS Division-IV playoffs, which get under way next week.
And the difference between a win and a loss could be substantial, including a potential two extra home games.
“We need to win this game to get a two or three seed, and a loss might knock us down to sixth or seventh,” Tomlin said.
Heading into the big weekend showdown, the Warriors are currently ranked No. 2 in Division IV, while the Crusaders are No. 6, with Fortuna in the mix as well at fourth.
Omey on fire
St. Bernard’s quarterback Will Omey and the rest of the Crusaders will carry some momentum into the clash after knocking off Fortuna 56-54 in a dramatic overtime game at Husky Field a week ago.
Omey threw for seven TDs and ran in for another, which earned him Humboldt Sports Athlete of the Week honors.
Omey also now leads the entire NCS in total offensive yards per game, with 300.4.
The Crusaders, however, will be without two major contributors as the injury bug has hit SB late in the season.
Talimaivao Fonoti, who had 18 tackles at linebacker a week ago, is out with a broken wrist, with junior Cole Petrusha stepping in to fill the void.
Receiver/DB Sebastian Taylor is also out with a concussion.
“That’s two key starters not playing,” Tomlin said. “Other guys are going to have to step up.”
Expecting a battle
Nova, meanwhile, is expecting a challenge from a dangerous St. Bernard’s team that has re-found its swagger after three straight losses.
And in particular, Omey and the Crusaders’ quick strike offense.
“They’re probably going to put the ball in the air on us, and use their quickness to try and control the game, so we have to be ready for that,” the Del Norte head coach said.
And the best way to contain that high-octane offense is to keep the Crusaders off the field as much as possible.
“Offensively, we need to come in with our running game and control the clock,” Nova added.
The St. Bernard’s defense, meanwhile, has given up more than 50 points to each of its first two Big 4 opponents, and containing that dangerous Del Norte ground attack will be key for them.
“Del Norte poses a challenge,” Tomlin said. “They’re physical and they have two very good players in Sebastian Puente and Ethan Price.”
Puente and Price have been racking up huge yards all season, including a four-TD performance for Puente against Fortuna two weeks ago.
“We have to stop their run,” Tomlin said. “Defensively, we have to stop them.”
St. Bernard’s comes into the game at 6-3, while Del Norte is 7-2.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m., and the game will be broadcast live on Mix 95.1 FM and The Edge 106.7 FM, with the pregame show getting under way at 12:40 p.m.