By Ray Hamill — The lions are kings of the jungle one more time.
On Saturday night, the St. Bernard’s Crusaders capped a memorable campaign with a 34-20 win over the South Spartans in the CIF 6-AA state championship game, giving head coach Matt Tomlin and his program a second state title in five seasons.
This one was achieved with an undersized team that apparently doesn’t understand the meaning of the word quit.
All year long they were relentless, daring and thrilling to watch, and they answered the call every time they were questioned, with their senior leaders and younger stars combining together to set an inspirational standard that will be difficult for future Crusaders teams to top.
In Tomlin’s words, they have played like lions all season long. They may not be the biggest animals in the jungle, but they are the toughest.
On Saturday, they answered the call once again, rallying from an early two-touchdown deficit and scoring four unanswered touchdowns for the second straight weekend.
Senior quarterback Will Omey was sensational one more time, closing out an outstanding high school career with another brilliant performance.
One week after accounting for six TDs in the NorCal Regional playoff win, he was involved in five more, combining with the ever-more dangerous Demarte Prudhomme for one and running in for four more.
He wasn’t the only hero on a night full of them, and this was a Crusaders team that succeeded because even though it was undersized it has consistently played bigger than the sum of its parts.
More importantly, the entire team stepped up on Saturday night, at a time when the game appeared to be getting away from the Crusaders.
The Spartans came out the more dangerous of the two teams, marching to the end on each of their opening two possessions, while the Crusaders saw their opening two drives stall when they gave up possession each time on downs.
Prudhomme’s TD catch on the ensuing drive, however, seemed to ignite the entire St. Bernard’s team.
A quick three-and-out on the Spartans’ next possession was followed with a second straight SB touchdown drive, this one ending on an eight-yard Omey run to the end zone.
A second Guillermo Perez-Estrada PAT gave the Crusaders a 14-13 edge, and they would never look back.
They forced a second punt from the visitors on the next drive and went into halftime leading by one.
But if the momentum had slowly switched hands late in the first half, the game was blown wide open when the Crusaders recovered two onside kicks in the third quarter, remarkably the second time they’ve done exactly that in three playoff games.
And they made them both count, quickly marching to the end zone and scoring on a pair of Omey runs, the first from two yards out and the second from 33 yards out.
The Spartans answered with a TD of their own early in the fourth, but the Crusaders had found their rhythm by then and were not going to be denied, quickly pulling out to a two-TD lead on Omey’s fourth TD run of the night midway through the final period.
It was certainly an entertaining clash and lived up to its billing as the first-ever state championship game played here on the North Coast.
Unlike the previous state title the Crusaders claimed in 2015, this one was achieved in front of a home crowd.
It was also the Big 4’s second state title in three years, following on Fortuna’s win in 2017.