By Ray Hamill — If the Crusaders are serious NCS contenders, this is the week they’ll have to show it.
St. Bernard’s is the No. 2 seed in the Division-6 bracket and will host No. 3 Middletown on Saturday afternoon, with a place in this year’s section championship game on the line.
And St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin is expecting a battle against a good Mustangs program under the guidance of legendary head coach Bill Foltmer.
“This is his 40th year coaching high school football, and he’s absolutely a genius,” Tomlin said. “They’ve got a great coach and a great team, so we expect a battle.”
The Crusaders have a pretty good team themselves and won’t lack confidence after last weekend’s 58-18 win over Ygnacio Valley in their playoff opener.
They have benefitted this season from a balanced lineup that can strike fast, with several big playmakers and a pair of undersized lines that continue to achieve more than you would expect from the sum of their parts.
Defensively, the Crusaders have been outstanding for much of the season.
“It starts with Justin Hagler,” Tomlin said of the senior linebacker, who is a Division-I college prospect. “He’s captain of our defense and he’s just been outstanding. He goes sideline to sideline and makes plays all over the field.”
Talimaivao Fonoti and Cole Petrusha also have impressed defensively, with Fonoti recovering a fumble last weekend and returning it 45 yards for a TD, one of two he had on the day.
“We’re undersized, but our guys play really tough football,” the head coach added.
They’ll need to do so again this weekend matching up against a tough Middletown team that is 8-2 after beating Pinole Valley 40-6 last week.
The Mustangs will try to control the game with their relentless running game, while the Crusaders will look to spread the ball as much as possible, and that should make for an interesting clash of styles.
“They’re a physical football team that’s going to run right at us,” Tomlin said.
In particular, the Crusaders will have to account for senior running back Nico Barrio.
“He’s outstanding, he’s a strong kid, he’s fast, and he’s got some cuts and moves,” Tomlin said of the senior.
The Crusaders will offer some serious matchup challenges themselves, particularly on offense, where they will have a “big-time height advantage at wide receiver,” according to their coach.
“We’re going to spread the field from sideline to sideline, and make them cover the entire field,” Tomlin said.
Receiver/DB Logan Petrusha is still out for the Crusaders after picking up an injury in the regular season finale, with freshman Grant Omey continuing to fill in on defense and sophomore Demarte Prudhomme continuing to fill in offense.
Both were outstanding filling in a week ago.
Game time is set for 1 p.m.