Crusaders give top seeds a big scare in thrilling semifinal

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St. Bernard’s gave the No. 1 seeds all they could handle in a thrilling NCS football semifinal at San Marin on Friday night, before ultimately falling 26-25 to end another memorable season.

The underdog Crusaders rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter, scoring on a 42-yard TD pass from quarterback Drew Sisemore to receiver Demarte Prudhomme to pull within one point of the Mustangs with six and a half minutes remaining.

A two-point conversion attempt came up just short, however, and the San Marin defense was able to hold on down the stretch, ending the game on a late interception with the visitors driving again.

“It was a fantastic game, and I’m not going to be down,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said. “It was an amazing season.”

The Crusaders could have opted to try and tie the game on a PAT after the late TD, but they went for two instead, as is their nature.

“It’s in our DNA at St. Bernard’s,” the head coach said.

So is causing far larger schools serious problems and a San Marin school with a student population of more than 1,100 was given quite a scare.

The No. 1 seeds came out the stronger of the two teams and quickly began to take control with TDs on their opening two drives.

The St. Bernard’s defense, however, settled into the game after that and held the San Marin offense in check for much of the rest of the game.

Carl Nunes got the Crusaders on the board with a 37-yard TD reception from Sisemore late in the first quarter, but the Mustangs would re-establish a 13-point lead with their third touchdown of the night in the final minute of the half.

The second half, however, belonged to the Crusaders.

Prudhomme got the rally started with a big fumble recovery at the San Marin 10-yard line, but St. Bernard’s was unable to punch it in and turned the ball over on downs.

A few minutes later, a blocked punt by Jacob Smallwood gave the Crusaders possession deep inside San Marin territory once again and this time they took full advantage when Prudhomme scored on a three-yard run to pull his team back within six.

The home team added a fourth TD early in the fourth to widen the gap to 26-13, but Prudhomme would find the end zone a second time on a five-yard run four minutes later.

The Crusaders then recovered an onside kick and less than a minute and a half later Prudhomme would pull them within one on his 42-yard scoring catch.

“The last three or four weeks of the season Prudhomme was locked in,” Tomlin said. “He just had an electrifying game for us tonight.”

Prudhomme’s third TD of the game was also the third St. Bernard’s TD that came on a fourth down play.

“We preach family at St. Bernard’s, and when we were down we stayed together and we played as a family,” Tomlin said. “The kids kept fighting.”

With the loss, the Crusaders close out the season 7-5 and they will say goodbye to a talented senior class, including three players — Smallwood, Demetrius Rawson and Brody Tomlin — who have been on the varsity roster for all four years.

“This senior class, I’m so proud of them,” the head coach said. “From where we were during the COVID season to where we are now, I’m so proud of them.”

San Marin improved to 11-1 and will play Del Norte in the Division-5 championship game next week.

3 replies »

  1. I am very proud of the Crusaders representing North Coast football extremely well. I don’t want to take anything away from that effort. They have shown repeatedly that even though they have half the amount of players on their team as compared to the competition, they stay competitive. A true testament to the hard work and supporting “family” tradition they have built.

    I do feel it is unfortunate that the HDNL and NCS continue to “punish” teams that have built successful programs by forcing them to compete against much larger schools. During the season is one thing, but when the kids are trying to do their best against similar schools for playoffs I do not think it is appropriate.

    They are calling it “competitive equity” said another way it is the “every kid gets a trophy”. This is not what we should be showing/teaching our kids in school. The HDNL started this process years ago when they moved Arcata and McKinleyville to the Little 4 and SB to the Big 5. The alignments are based on enrollment at the schools, hence the “Big” and “Little” classification. Exactly the same as Division I, Division II, Division III, and NAIA in the NCAA classification. These leagues are not decided on wins and losses but simply on school size.

    Keep it simple, keep politics out of sports. Return the Big 5 and the Little 4 to how they were and how they should be for competitive and long term athletic competition. The kids deserve to go as far as they can against comparable competition, the current process is not sustainable.

  2. Robert, I agree with almost everything you have written. But just a heads up, NCAA divisions I, II, and III have nothing to do with school size. It is based on the amount of scholarship money that schools allocate to each sport. Generally in football you are correct, but Division I basketball has many schools that are much smaller than Humboldt State for example.

    • What about schools like Hoopa and South Fork though? They are confined to the kids that live in their area while SB gets to cherry pick some of the best talent from McKinleyville, Arcata, Fortuna, and this year’s QB is from Ferndale so you can’t look at just school size. SB beat Eureka twice this year. They don’t belong in a league with a small finite population to pick from.

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