The Del Norte Warriors welcomed back a familiar face on Friday night, and he played a big part in a conference-clinching 25-7 victory over St. Bernard’s in Crescent City.
Senior running back and team captain Caleb Dodson returned to the lineup after missing several weeks through injury and he had a huge and immediate impact with three touchdown runs in the victory.
The Warriors have now won six straight and improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the Big 4, moving them two wins clear of the chasing pack with just two games remaining and guaranteeing them at least a share of the title.
They can clinch it outright with a win in either of their two remaining games at Fortuna and at home to Eureka.
“It was a huge game and our kids bought into the challenge playing a really good St. Bernard’s team,” Del Norte head coach Nick White said, adding that the league title is “a testament to how hard our kids work.”
Dodson opened the scoring on the first play of the Warriors’ second possession of the night, taking his first carry in weeks 61 yards for a TD.
“Welcome back Caleb!” White said with a chuckle. “He’s such an amazing player, and he’s a team captain, and he’s just a really good kid.”
Dodson also scored on a three-yard TD run late in the second quarter to give Del Norte an 18-7 lead at halftime, and then capped a big night with a 10-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter.
RJ Loftin, who had taken up much of the slack in Dodson’s absence, also had a good night carrying the ball and gives the Warriors a very dangerous one-two punch in the offensive backfield behind a relentless line.
Loftin added a 25-yard TD run late in the first quarter to give the home team a 12-0 lead.
Grant Omey, meanwhile, has seen a much bigger work load for St. Bernard’s in the absence of injured running back Wyatt Simoni over the past two weeks, and he has also been running the ball well, scoring on an 80-yard run in the second quarter.
Unfortunately for the visitors, that was their only big play of the game, as the Warriors defense continued to set the tone in the Big 4.
“The kids are buying in, believing in the game plan,” White said of his defense. “They’re smart, and we really preach being a smart football player and knowing the schemes and knowing your opponent. We teach them the game of football, and we have a lot of kids who are hard hitters and love playing for each other.”
The loss ended a two-game winning streak for the Crusaders, who have now fallen to Del Norte twice in conference play and dropped to 2-2 in the Big 4 and 4-4 overall.
“We played tough and physical,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said. “I was happy with my kids. We’re doing a good job against Big 4 opponents matching them physically.
“We played really well defensively tonight, we just couldn’t get any offensive rhythm going.”
Team captain Deshaun Bailey continued to play well at middle linebacker for the Crusaders, as did fellow captain and lineman Perry Bailey, whom Tomlin described as the “MVP of our team.”
Dominic Kofi also continued to impress along the line for the visitors.