By Ray Hamill — Senior Ethan Price is well known for his explosive plays on offense, but on Saturday it was his defensive playmaking ability that stood out.
Price pulled in a pair of second-half interceptions and broke up several passes to lead the Del Norte Warriors to a crucial 42-31 win over St. Bernard’s at Crusader Field.
The win lifts the Warriors to 8-2 on the year, and coupled with Kennedy High’s surprise loss to Salesian this weekend moves them up to No. 2 in the North Coast Section Division-IV rankings, which should be good enough to earn them the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye.
It was the Warriors’ first win over the Crusaders in some time, having lost five previous matchups against them dating back to 2010.
The Warriors had not defeated the Crusaders since sometime before 2004.
“It’s fantastic,” Del Norte head coach Lewis Nova said. “It’s been a long dry spell in getting a win against St. Bernard’s, and to do it in this manner, playing four quarters, and just the sacrifice these kids have made to achieve it.”
It was an offensive game from the opening kickoff, with both offenses carving their way up and down the field, and both defenses having problems stopping them.
The two teams combined for scores on the opening seven possessions of the game, and the opening three of the second half.
But the bigger and deeper Warriors squad eventually wore down the Crusaders late in the game.
“I told our guys we lost that game from January to August in the weight room,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said. “(Del Norte) were bigger, they’re stronger, and we don’t have the depth of the bigger schools. They just wore us down.”
It was the one major concern for the Crusaders joining the Big 4 this season, with a squad of just 19 varsity players matching up against Eureka, Fortuna and Del Norte, each of which has far larger rosters.
And as Tomlin pointed out at the start of the season, any bad run of injuries could prove costly for St. Bernard’s, which is exactly what has transpired.
“We’re pretty beat up right now,” Tomlin said. “We’ve just got to fight through it.”
That’s not to take anything from a Del Norte squad that has been a bigger surprise this year than any other team on the North Coast.
The Warriors’ only losses have come against Eureka and Fortuna, the latter of which they avenged in style three weeks later.
And they will go into the playoffs as a legitimate threat to No. 1 seed Moreau Catholic (10-0).
On Saturday, Price stepped up twice late in the game, literally, rising high to claim a pair of game-changing interceptions.
The first came in the final minute of the third quarter, with the Crusaders threatening to re-take the lead in what had been a back-and-forth affair all afternoon, when the athletic senior intercepted a pass in the end zone.
It was the turning point of the game.
“He really came through in the second half,” Nova said.
His second pick came in the final moments of the game with the Crusaders down by two scores and desperately trying to rally.
The versatile Price also scored a pair of touchdowns on the offensive side of the ball, one on a QB sneak and the other on a 20-yard reception from quarterback OJ Calleja.
Calleja had a big day, scoring three touchdowns on three QB sneaks, as the Warriors established their physicality.
Sebastian Puente also had a touchdown run to open the scoring for the visitors.
“We were able to establish our running game with a number of players,” Nova said.
Quick start for Fairfield
The Crusaders matched the Warriors on the offensive side of the ball for much of the game, marching on them with relative ease.
St. Bernard’s opened the scoring less than a minute and a half into the game, with Luke Fairfield leading the way.
The senior receiver returned the opening kickoff 60 yards, and then caught a pass at the one-yard line to set up his TD run on the following play.
Quarterback Will Omey connected with Lane Thrap on a 28-yard TD reception to cap the following drive, before Logan Simoni threw a TD pass to Bode Joyner one possession later.
Thrap and Logan Petrusha each also had an interception, while the SB defense came up with a big defensive stand late in the second quarter on one of the few occasions they managed to halt the visitors.
St. Bernard’s, which closes out the regular season 6-4, is ranked fifth in Division IV going into Sunday’s seedings meeting, with Fortuna in third.