By Ray Hamill — Football returned to the North Coast Section this weekend after several delays and postponements caused by the poor air quality in the Bay Area, and it didn’t disappoint.
Only two local teams were involved, with three others watching and waiting to see who they’ll play next.
Here then are five takeaways from the weekend in prep football …
1 — The Las Lomas Knights are coming to town
After two weeks of playing the waiting game, the Eureka Loggers finally found out who they’ll play in the Division-III semifinals, after Las Lomas dominated Terra Linda 42-0 in their quarterfinal matchup.
The No. 3 seed Knights, out of Walnut Creek, were expected to beat No. 11 Terra Linda, so the result will come as no surprise to the Loggers.
And the Eureka players certainly won’t fear anyone after steamrolling their way to an 11-0 record this season, most recently cruising past De Anza 66-20 in their NCS quarterfinal back on Nov. 9.
The semifinal showdown will be played at Albee Stadium on Saturday night, and will be a matchup of two unbeaten squads.
The Knights come into the game at 12-0, with an impressive seven shutouts in their past nine games.
Playing in the Diablo-Valley League, however, the quality of the opposition the Knights have faced pales in comparison to who the Loggers have played.
Eureka is currently ranked No. 76 in the state by MaxPreps, while Las Lomas is ranked No. 130.
But only five of the Knights’ 12 victories have come against top-500 teams in the state, while nine of the Loggers’ 11 wins have come against top-500 teams.
The Knights, however, are currently the highest ranked team of any the Loggers have played this year.
The Knights have also turned around their fortunes recently, improving from 0-10 two seasons ago to 12-0 this year.
2 — Get set for Fortuna-Del Norte III
It’s a matchup local football fans won’t want to miss, when these two Big 4 rivals meet in an NCS semifinal in Crescent City on Friday night.
Del Norte is seeded No. 2 in the Division-IV bracket, and has played just one game in the past month, a 37-21 win over Justin-Siena in a quarterfinal matchup on Nov. 9.
The No. 6 Huskies, meanwhile, turned in an impressive showing at No. 3 Kennedy High in Richmond on Saturday night, showing no ill-effects from a three-week layoff with a 42-18 victory.
And that sets up a third showdown between the two Big 4 rivals this season, with the winner advancing to the NCS championship.
Both previous games were entertaining, high-scoring affairs, with the two programs combining for 185 points over the eight quarters of play.
The home team won on each occasion, which will be encouraging for the Warriors.
3 — Matt Tomlin’s SB never disappoints
One thing you can never accuse St. Bernard’s of is being boring.
Not under head coach Matt Tomlin.
The Crusaders were at it again on Saturday afternoon, losing a memorable playoff game at San Marin by a score of 49-47, with the Mustangs scoring the winning touchdown in the final second of the game.
St. Bernard’s has become accustomed to playing in supremely entertaining games, particularly over the last six weeks.
The battled to a thrilling 56-54 overtime win at Fortuna last month, and followed that with another exciting clash at home to Del Norte in the league finale two weeks later.
Their playoff thriller also comes a year after they fell by two points in another dramatic NCS finish against Fortuna.
Their season may have come to an end in heartbreaking fashion, but the Crusaders were certainly fun to watch at times.
They will say goodbye to eight seniors — Logan Simoni, Connor Chase, Luke Fairfield, Sebastian Taylor, Cayden Gordon, A.J. Jager, Lucindo Gable and Isaac Beach — and whether this team belongs in the Big 4 going forward remains a controversial issue for some.
The move certainly made for a far more intriguing and entertaining Little 4 this season after their years of dominance, but it remains a difficult proposition for the Crusaders to field a large enough roster to compete week in and week out with the larger programs, such as those in the Big 4.
Their success at the NCS level has them playing in the Division IV bracket come playoff time, competing against schools like San Marin, which has 1,100 students compared to St. Bernard’s 170.
The Crusaders never back away from the challenge, and Saturday was another example of that.
Will Omey once again was inspirational, accounting for seven touchdowns in the loss, running for five and throwing for two.
He passed for 277 yards and ran for 260.
Omey, who also led the NCS in total offensive yards this season, is only a junior and should be back better than ever in 2019.
4 — Good to have football back
This weekend was a chance to momentarily forget about the NCS mess and the controversial decisions of the past couple of weeks, and focus once again on football instead.
Unfortunately, that won’t last.
And with Fortuna’s win over Kennedy, it guarantees at least one local team (and possibly two) will have to make a crucial decision on whether to play for an NCS championship and forfeit a chance at moving on to the state games, or have it decided for them instead on a tiebreaker that would likely involve a coin toss.
As I’ve said before, it’s a disgrace that any team should be forced to make such a decision, and it will be all too real next week.
Either Del Norte or Fortuna is guaranteed to move on to the championship game, leaving one of them facing that decision.
Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow said he will put it down to a team vote if it comes to that.
Eureka could also be involved in making such a decision if the Loggers get past Las Lomas in Division III, and head coach Jason White said he and his players want to play for an NCS crown.
5 — South Fork gets rematch with Branson
The South Fork Cubs have also been waiting to see who they will face in their NCS eight person championship game.
On Saturday, No. 1 seed Branson edged past No. 4 Tomales, 62-58 in a high-scoring affair.
The win sets up a rematch with No. 2 seed South Fork (8-3) in next weekend’s championship showdown at Branson HS in Ross.
The two teams met in mid September, with the Bulls prevailing 36-22.
The Cubs’ offense has been on fire since then, including a 56-22 win over Rincon Valley Christian in their section semi two weeks ago.