Ray Hamill — Jacob Smallwood has been coming up big on defense for the St. Bernard’s Crusaders all season long, and he did it again on the biggest stage of all on Saturday night.
And he wasn’t alone.
Smallwood was one of numerous heroes on a sensational and thrilling night for local high school football, with three H-DNL teams playing in an NCS championship game, and two of those games going down to the final seconds.
Both St. Bernard’s and Del Norte dug deep when they each needed it the most, pulling out victories in dramatic fashion, while Ferndale closed out a thrilling season of its own in a 50-29 loss to a very good Salesian team in the Division-7 decider.
All in all it wasn’t a bad return for the H-DNL, taking two of the seven full-team brackets this year.
And just as impressive was the manner in which each championship win was decided.
Del Norte beat Encinal by just one point, 14-13, sealing the victory by blocking a 25-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
It was an emotionally charged first-ever NCS championship win for the Warriors in football, and if they go on to win 50 more it’s unlikely any of them will be as exhilarating or dramatic as this one was.
Chase Blackburn got the block, one of many Del Norte players who dug that little bit deeper than their opponents just when they needed it the most.
Likewise for the Crusaders.
Smallwood recovered a fumble after a Will Omey strip, one of two game-clinching takeaways by the SB defense in the fourth quarter.
Lane Thrap also came away with an interception in the dying minutes, leading a clutch SB defensive performance, as the Crusaders stepped up big when it mattered most once again.
Special teams also played a pivotal role for the Crusaders, with a 37-yard field goal by the most dynamic kicker on the North Coast this season, Spanish exchange student Guillermo Perez-Estrada, as well as a remarkable two onside kick recoveries by senior Eli Moon, both in the third quarter.
You couldn’t have scripted a more exciting end to either game, with twists and turns in the plot all night long for each.
What a thrilling night for H-DNL football.