By Ray Hamill — The Big 4 ended in a three-way tie for the championship after St. Bernard’s comfortably took care of business against Eureka at Crusader Field on Saturday afternoon.
A 22-12 win for Fortuna over Del Norte on Friday night gave the Crusaders some added motivation coming into Saturday’s game, and the players knew a win over their crosstown rivals would secure a share of a first-ever Big 4 crown.
And they responded with an emphatic 37-0 victory, improving to 2-1 in conference and 7-3 overall.
Later on Saturday afternoon, St. Bernard’s won a three-way coin toss to decide which of the co-champions would receive the league’s automatic berth for the North Coast Section playoffs, which will likely give the Crusaders a home game in the opening round next weekend.
St. Bernard’s Wyatt Simoni scored four TDs in Saturday’s conference-clinching win to cap an incredible individual season for the senior standout.
The Crusaders wasted little time taking control of the game, and thanks to some great early field position they would open up a 17-0 lead before the end of the first quarter.
After forcing a quick three-and-out on the Logger’s opening possession and a short punt, the home team opened the scoring just three minutes into the game when Simoni scored on an eight-yard TD run.
Another short punt by the Loggers a few minutes later gave St. Bernard’s possession at the Eureka 23 and Tyler Hinrich would add to his team’s lead with a 37-yard field goal.
The early onslaught continued when Simoni scored his second TD on a two-yard run in the final minute of the first quarter.
His teammate Jonathan Cortez, who has been one of the H-DNL’s most dominating linemen all season, tipped a pass into Simoni’s hands and the senior defensive end returned it 25 yards to put his team up 23-0.
“He’s just a special player,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said of Simoni. “Our goal was to give him the ball less today to save him for the playoffs, but even with limiting his touches he still had a great game.”
Check out some game highlights below …
The Crusaders scored again with 8:22 remaining in the first half when sophomore quarterback Luke Brunton completed a 25-yard TD pass to receiver Aaiden Burris in the corner of the end zone and the home team carried a 30-0 lead into halftime.
“Aiden Burris has turned into a big play wide receiver for us,” Tomlin said.
The Loggers, who closed out the season 0-10, managed just one first down for the opening half.
Senior linebacker Lawrence Renner had another big game on defense for the Crusaders and has become a tackle machine.
“He’s just been so consistent for us at linebacker all year,” Tomlin said of the team captain.
St. Bernard’s received the ball to start the second half and quickly went to work again, with Simoni adding his fourth touchdown of the afternoon on a 25-yard run to cap a four-play drive.
The league championship is particularly gratifying for a school the size of St. Bernard’s, coming against three schools that feature four or five times (or more) the student population.
The league held a three-way coin toss on Saturday afternoon, with the odd school out receiving the automatic playoff berth.
Fortuna and Del Norte both threw heads, while St. Bernard’s threw tails.
The NCS wil announce the playoff brackets and seeds on Sunday.
In addition to St. Bernard’s, Fortuna and Del Norte — and Arcata, which receives the Little 4’s automatic playoff berth — Ferndale and South Fork also are likely to be included in the NCS postseason.