Crusaders quietly confident of upsetting the top seeds

Photos by Ray Hamill/

By Ray Hamill — No one can ever accuse the Crusaders of shying away from a challenge.

One of the most consistently dangerous teams in the North Coast Section football playoffs every year, St. Bernard’s will travel to San Marin for a Division-5 semifinal showdown on Friday night looking to secure a fourth NCS championship game appearance in six seasons.

To achieve that, however, they will have to overcome a very strong No. 1 seed and a tough road environment.

The Mustangs have a big program that features 140 players between their varsity, JV and freshmen teams, which, as Crusaders head coach Matt Tomlin points out, is roughly the number of total students at St. Bernard’s.

“This is going to be David versus Goliath,” he said. “San Marin’s got a very good program. They’ve earned the No. 1 seed for a reason and they’re very well coached.”

They also get very good home support.

“They’ve got amazing support,” Tomlin said. “They get a couple of thousand fans at every home game. But our team’s ready and I think we’ve got a chance the way we’ve been playing defense the past few weeks.”

The Crusaders have indeed been playing exceptional defense recently, holding their past three opponents to a combined seven points.

They’ll need more of the same again on Friday night and one of the keys to victory will be containing San Marin’s standout senior running back/safety Justin Guin, who thrives behind an offensive line that features two big college prospects.

On offense, Guin has run for an average of 162.6 yards a game and has scored 28 TDs.

“It’s going to take tremendous team defense to slow down (Guin),” Tomlin said. “We have to force them to try and beat us by throwing the ball.

“And offensively, if we’re going to win the game we’ve got to make some big plays with our wide receivers. We’ve got to get our wide receivers going.”

The two teams have met twice in the playoffs in recent years, with St. Bernard’s winning in 2017 and San Marin prevailing in a year later.

The Crusaders, however, have plenty of playoff pedigree.

Tomlin and his team have won at least one game in each of their last seven playoff appearances, winning the NCS in 2015 and 2019 and finishing runners-up in 2016.

The head coach’s playoff record is an impressive 18-5.

Friday night’s game is set for 7 p.m.

A victory could set up an all-local championship game next week if the Del Norte Warriors also win their semifinal at home to Miramonte.

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