By Ray Hamill — Local fans will be paying particular attention to the Division-IV bracket in this year’s North Coast Section playoffs, with three Big 4 teams among the top six seeds.
Two of them open this weekend, with No. 6 Fortuna hosting No. 11 El Molino at Husky Field on Friday night, and No. 5 St. Bernard’s hosting No. 12 Albany at Crusader Field on Saturday afternoon.
Del Norte earned the No. 2 seed and has a first-round bye.
The Crusaders came through their first Big 4 campaign a little beat up, but heading into the postseason they will have a full complement of players available again, even if some of them are still a little sore.
“It’s been a good week of practice,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said. “We’ve just really been focusing on our game plan and trying to keep everybody healthy. Everybody will be ready to play.”
Junior Talimaivao Fonoti was feared lost for the season two weeks ago with a broken wrist, but was back in the lineup last weekend against Del Norte after being re-evaluated.
The bruising running back is still feeling the effects of the injury and will not see any action carrying the ball, but will play at linebacker, where he has been a force all season long.
The biggest challenge for St. Bernard’s (6-4) against Albany (6-3), will be containing quarterback Matt Jones.
The dual-threat senior has thrown for 1,466 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games, while also running for 332 yards and two more TDs.
“They have a really athletic mobile quarterback that can really run about the field, and make plays with his arm and his feet,” Tomlin said.
The Crusaders will move junior Will Omey from defensive back to linebacker to spy Jones.
“We need to contain their quarterback and stop their running game,” Tomlin said.
Jones has also thrown 12 interceptions.
More options for Crusaders
The Crusaders present a dual threat quarterback of their own in Omey, who now has 1,915 yards passing, including 27 touchdowns and just five interceptions, while also rushing for 1,141 yards and 13 more TDs.
The junior has been unstoppable most of the season, and with back-up quarterback Bode Joyner getting more and more comfortable after missing the first half of the season because of a wrist injury, it gives Tomlin more options in the offensive backfield.
Saturday’s game is scheduled for noon and will be broadcast live on Mix 95.1 FM and The Edge 106.7 FM, with the pre-game show getting under way at 11:40 AM.