Wildcats shut out the Crusaders in physical opener

Photos by Ray Hamill/HumboldtSports.com

By Ray Hamill — The Ferndale Wildcats got the new football season off to an impressive start on Friday afternoon, grinding out a gritty 12-0 win at St. Bernard’s.

A mixture of physical blocking, hard-nosed running and tough defense was just enough to see off a young St. Bernard’s team, as the Wildcats got contributions from just about everybody on their 17-man roster and posted a shutout over one of their biggest rivals.

It was the Cats first win over the Crusaders since 2013, a run that has spanned 12 straight losses.

“These guys, it really is a solid group of young men,” Ferndale head coach Clint McClurg said. “Our seniors played really, really well. I was really pleased with them, but it was sophomores who got in the end zone. Our whole team just really, really showed up.”

In a defensive game, both teams came away with a pair of takeaways, and it was two big plays by the Ferndale offense that ultimately made the difference.

The first was a 16-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Jenner Christiansen to younger brother Kannon, a sophomore tight end, midway through the second quarter.

It was the Cats’ first pass attempt of the season.

“That was a pretty special moment for them,” the head coach said. 

The second big play was a 63-yard TD run late in the third quarter by sophomore Cayden Collings (see video highlight), who broke free thanks to a couple of nice blocks from Kannon Christiansen and DJ Albee.

“In a one-possession game, that was a huge, huge play for us,” McClurg said. 

But while the two sophomores found the end zone, it was the play of several seniors that paved the way to victory, no one more than Lane Branstetter, who had a huge game on both sides of the ball, at running back and linebacker.

“He was just amazing all day,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said of Branstetter. “We just didn’t have an answer for him.”

McClurg also had some words of praise for his senior standout.

“You just can’t speak highly enough about the young man,” he said “He’s absolutely the leader of our defense in the middle.”

Branstetter got plenty of help from fellow seniors Bryce Bell, Caden Rocha and Charles Lockett, who freed him up to make plays with some physical blocking up front.

“The defensive line keeps him clean,” McClurg said. “And then he’s going to fly around and make plays. And on offense you could argue he’s our best blocker.”

For the Crusaders, who have just one starting senior and have lost numerous starters from last year’s state championship team, it was a learning experience.

“Our effort was great,” Tomlin said. “The kids played hard the whole game and that’s all you can ask for.”

Dominic Kofi impressed along the line and was “just a force inside,” according to his coach, while fellow junior Demetrius Rawson also had a big game and continues to showcase his leadership on both sides of the ball.

It didn’t help matters when the Crusaders lost junior receiver Peyton Smith to an injury early in the game.

Senior quarterback Bode Joyner did his best, but was limited at times, as the Crusaders failed to find much rhythm on offense against the Cats’ physical defense.

“Joyner was giving it his all out there,” Tomlin said. “He’s surrounded by a lot of young guys and guys that don’t know the system. That’s a lot of pressure on him.”

Perry Daly and Brayden Luna each came away with a fumble recovery for St. Bernard’s, while teammate Drew Vizenor had a big reception to help keep a drive going.

For Ferndale, Cole Carmesin and Colson Renner each had an interception.

“They’ve got a veteran team and a lot of upperclassmen,” Tomlin said of the Cats. “Their coaching staff did a good job and the Ferndale players played a really good game.”

And they should get even better.

“There were plenty of first-game mistakes,” McClurg said. “Plenty to work on.”


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