Crusaders rally to edge the Warriors in early-season classic

Photos by Ray Hamill/ – Tyler Dimmick breaks free on his way to an 85-yard kickoff return for a TD, with the Hoopa sideline looking on.

By Ray Hamill — St. Bernard’s and Hoopa served up an early-season instant classic at Crusader Field on Saturday afternoon, in what was a thoroughly engrossing and highly entertaining showdown between these two former Little 4 rivals.

In the end, it was the Crusaders who walked away victorious, holding on late for a 26-25 win, in large part thanks to a crucial blocked PAT by sophomore Paco Davila.

The visitors enjoyed the better of exchanges for much of the first half and led by a pair of touchdowns midway through the second quarter, with their defense frustrating the Crusaders offense and their running game grinding out the yards.

Tyler Dimmick, however, got the home team going with a game-changing 85-yard kickoff return, and St. Bernard’s gradually began to take control of the game after that.

“I really thought he was our spark tonight,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said of Dimmick, who had a monster game. “We needed someone to step up and give us confidence, and he did that.”

Dimmick, who normally only plays defense, had to be convinced by his coach to play a bigger role on Saturday because St. Bernard’s was missing several players due to injury and transfer protocols.

And boy, did he deliver.

After Hoopa responded immediately to Dimmick’s big kickoff return with their third touchdown of the day, the SB senior had another big return to give his team possession near midfield with 1:19 on the clock.

Four plays later, quarterback Drew Sisemore combined with Dimmick on a 26-yard passing TD to pull the Crusaders within six points at the break.

The third quarter essentially decided the game.

The Warriors got possession first and methodically drove all the way to the St. Bernard’s four-yard line, but the Crusaders defense held firm and came up with a big stand.

They then marched 96 yards to score on a 12-yard TD pass from Sisemore to running back Wyatt Simoni in the final minute of the period and took a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.

Simoni was instrumental in the drive, as the Crusaders’ run game began to take control.

The Warriors fumbled away possession on their next drive, and Seth Brunton’s recovery gave the Crusaders the ball at the Hoopa 35.

Ten plays later, Sisemore connected with Brayden Luna on a four-yard, fourth-down TD pass to stretch the lead to seven.

It was Sisemore’s third TD pass of the game and the fourth straight possession the Crusaders scored on.

The Warriors responded immediately, when the outstanding Andrew Hunsucker recovered the ensuing onside kick and returned it 46 yards for a TD to pull his team within one.

But Davila, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, stepped up with one of the biggest plays of the day to block the PAT and keep the Crusaders in the lead.

The home team proceeded to run out the final seven minutes of the game for the win, with a heavy dose of Simoni and Sisemore runs behind a line that grew in stature and was led again by outstanding senior center Tucker Rice.

Both teams played well, and afterwards Tomlin paid tribute to the visiting players.

“What an amazing team Hoopa has,” he said. “Coach (Floyd ‘Cowboy’) Billings, his coaching staff, his players, they’ve got something special this year. I left the field with so much respect for them.”

Hoopa had several standouts.

In addition to Hunsucker, who ran the ball well and came up with the big special teams play, Darvin Davis IV, Lane Campbell, Brian Gulley, Jason Marshall and Gerard Marshall all had big afternoons, among others.

Campbell ran the ball well and continually caught the SB defense off guard in the first half, and the senior signal caller opened the scoring with a 26-yard TD run late in first quarter.

A Gulley fumble recovery early in the second quarter set up Hoopa’s second TD, and seven plays later Gerard Marshall found the end zone from two yards out.

Davis IV, who made several big plays on both sides of the ball, scored his team’s third TD late in the first half on a 10-yard reception from Campbell, while Gulley also came away with a first-quarter interception.

“I thought we controlled the ball and we were more physical, but when they hit the kickoff return the momentum shifted,” Billings said. “It was just mental mistakes. It happens.

“It was a tough one, but we’ll bounce back.”

For the Crusaders, this was the sort of win that will give the young players a lot of confidence moving forward.

“I was very happy with my team,” Tomlin said. “Because we had so many JVs called up and everybody stepped up and made plays, and we found a way to win the game, maybe nobody more than Tyler Dimmick.”

Both teams are now 1-1.

Next up, St. Bernard’s travels to Montgomery and Hoopa plays at Fort Bragg.

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