Crusaders overcome physical Tigers to go to 4-0

File photo – The St. Bernard’s Crusaders improved to 4-0 with a 35-21 win over Arcata on Saturday.

St. Bernard’s improved to 4-0 with a hard-fought 35-21 win over Arcata at Crusader Field on Saturday afternoon, but they had to battle all the way against a physical Tigers team that is building some momentum ahead of league play.

St. Bernard’s senior Wyatt Simoni ran in for three touchdowns and also threw a TD pass, but there was just one score separating the teams going into the final three minutes of the game.

“First of all I want to compliment (head) coach (Matt) Magers and (defensive coordinator Eddy) Vainuku and the players at Arcata High,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said. “I thought they played very well today.”

Despite losing starting quarterback Cole Vandenplas to injury early in the game, the Tigers appeared well up for the challenge.

Sophomore Luke Lemke took over at quarterback and had a good game running the ball and causing the SB defense problems for much of the afternoon.

But it was Simoni who once again set the tone on both sides of the ball and was a notable difference.

Simoni scored first-half touchdowns on runs of six and two yards, and would seal the win on a late one-yard scoring run with 2:29 one the clock.

The dynamic senior now has 12 rushing touchdowns this year.

“Wyatt had another monster game,” Tomlin said.

For good measure, the senior standout also threw an eight-yard first-half touchdown pass to Tyler Hinrichs.

He finished with 190 yards rushing on 35 carries, as well as two receptions for 33 yards, three sacks, six tackles and a forced fumble.

Freshman Trenten Hagler and sophomore Luke Brunton once again split time at quarterback for the home team and were tested by an Arcata defense that has a deep pool of talented athletes.

Brunton threw a 28-yard TD pass to sophomore Michael Manzi to give the Crusaders a two-TD cushion early in the fourth quarter after a scoreless third quarter for both teams.

“Both our quarterbacks are learning a lot,” Tomlin said. “They made mistakes, but they’ll learn. They’re going to keep getting better.”

Hagler completed 5 of 9 passes for 46 yards and also had 16 yards rushing on nine carries, while Brunton completed 3 of 5 passes for 34 yards.

File photo – The Arcata Tigers

Just about every time the home team scored, however, the visitors found a way to respond.

After the Crusaders took the lead on their opening drive, the Tigers tied the game minutes later when Lemke and Jackson Strand connected on a 52-yard TD pass.

Dayquan Dunn, who plays the rover position for the Tigers, also scored on a 65-yard interception just before halftime to leave them trailing by seven at the interval.

Lemke threw his second TD pass of the day midway through the fourth quarter, this time connecting with Lennon Geider on a 45-yard scoring play to set up a tight finish.

“It was a slugfest,” Magers said. “For us, I feel it was a missed opportunity.”

Lemke played a key role while filling in for Vandenplas, who was doing fine afterwards and will be available for the Tigers next game.

“He can move. He’s an athlete,” Magers said of Lemke, who also has made some big plays at receiver this season.

File photo – Wyatt Simoni has 12 rushing TDs in four games.

Magers added, however, that “he gets out of the pocket probably a little more than he should.”

Tomlin also praised the Arcata QB’s performance.

“Luke Lemke was outstanding for them,” he said. “He gave us fits with his feet.”

The Crusaders, however, weathered the storm to remain unbeaten and their experienced linemen played a key role against a physical Arcata defensive front.

“Our senior offensive line really battled,” Tomlin said. “I’m proud of them.”

Aaiden Burris made his first start of the season for the Crusaders and had an immediate impact with an interception, while sophomore Isaiah Wolfe also had an interception and continues to be one of the Crusaders’ most consistent playmakers.

Defensive lineman Jonathan Cortez also had six tackles.

Hinrichs also nailed all five of his PATs and has now kicked 18 of 20 for the season.

File photo

For Arcata, Alex Greenway had another good day running the ball along with Lemke, as the Tigers continually threatened.

“We had a lot of drives that kind of stalled in the red zone,” Magers said. “It was a tight game till the end. It was a tough loss.”

Tomlin was impressed with the Tigers balance on both sides of the ball.

“Arcata gave us a battle and I felt fortunate to get the win,” he said. “They’re more physical (than they’ve been) and they’ve got good athletes in the secondary and at receiver.”

The Tigers dropped to 2-2.

Both teams have a bye next weekend, before the Tigers open league play at home to Hoopa and the Crusaders host Ukiah the following week.

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