Del Norte (42) at St. Bernard’s (31)

Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th Final

Del Norte 16 6 14 6 42

St. Bernard’s 14 10 7 0 31

Team Stats

Team Rush Pass Total

Del Norte 39-317 3-8-61 378

St. Bernard’s 36-142 25-42-314 456

Individual Stats

Passing

Player Comp. Att. Yds. TD/INT

OJ Calleja 2 6 18 1/1

Ethan Price 1 1 42 0/0

Giovanni Gonzalez 0 1 0 0/1

Receiving

Player Catches Yds. TD

Giovanni Gonzalez 1 42 0

Ethan Price 1 20 1

Kaleb Price 1 -1 0

Rushing

Player Carries Yds. TD

Ethan Price 17 179 1

Sebastian Puente 12 107 1

Levi Cox-Cooley 2 16 0

Kobe Mitchell 4 12 0

OJ Calleja 4 3 3

After an offensive shootout in the first half, the Del Norte football team’s defense finally started to solve St. Bernard’s’ dangerous aerial assault. The Crusaders’ defense, meanwhile, never managed to halt the Warriors’ powerful rushing attack, and Del Norte pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 42-31 win in Eureka in an exciting regular season finale.

“It was fantastic. It has been a while since we have gotten a win against St. Bernard’s,” said Del Norte head coach Lewis Nova. “They have been one of the premier teams in Northern California for several years, so to finally get a win is fantastic. And to do it in this manner — playing four quarters. The kids have sacrificed to achieve this. And this gives us momentum heading into the playoffs as well.”

Both teams were red hot offensively from the opening kickoff. Though a stark contrast in styles, the offenses from both Del Norte and St. Bernard’s dominated the first half.

The Crusaders made use of a powerful passing game to rack up touchdowns on each of its first three possessions and a field goal on its fourth drive for 24 quick points.

“We knew that they were going to put the ball in the air against us, and they were successful early,” Nova said.

Del Norte did its damage on the ground, but was nearly as efficient as it answered the Crusaders with three touchdowns in its first three drives.

“We were able to establish our running game just like we wanted — with a number of players,” Nova said. “Puente was our solid starter, but we moved some other running backs in there. I think the lines just made the difference in controlling the game.”

St. Bernard’s field goal with 4:30 remaining gave the Crusaders a 24-22 lead before both teams’ defenses finally made their presence felt.

Del Norte started on its own 41 yard line, but quickly found itself in the red zone after a 42-yard screen pass to Giovanni Gonzalez. St. Bernard’s managed to turn Del Norte over on downs, however, stopping the Warriors on four straight running plays.

St. Bernard’s took over at its own 11 yard line and four plays later found itself deep in Del Norte territory once again, but with the clock running down the Warriors managed to turn the Crusaders over on downs, taking over at their own 13 with 11 seconds left and the score stayed at 24-21 heading into halftime.

The second half looked like it would be another high scoring affair early.

Del Norte took the opening possession and drove 63 yards on five straight running plays, capped off with a 3-yard touchdown run up the middle on a quarterback sneak by junior OJ Calleja for a 30-24 lead.

St. Bernard’s responded with an 11-play 73-yard touchdown drive, once again mostly through the air, to recapture the lead at 31-30.

The Warriors responded by driving back down the field in 13 plays that lasted almost six minutes. Ethan Price capped off the 65-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on a quarterback sneak to jump back in front 36-31 after a failed two-point conversion.

Once the fourth quarter started, Del Norte’s defense started to step up and make plays.

“In the second half I think we figured things out and started doing what the coaches had gotten our kids ready for,” Nova said.

St. Bernard’s started the final period with a long drive deep into Warrior territory before Del Norte’s pass defense stepped up to keep the Crusaders out of the end zone. Facing a first down on the Del Norte 11 yard line, the Warriors forced a pair of incomplete passes and stopped a run shot before Ethan Price picked off a pass at the goal line and returned it to the 4 to on fourth down and seven.

Del Norte took over at its own 4 yard line and picked up a pair of first downs, but a reverse pass by the Warriors resulted in an interception at midfield.

From there, Del Norte drove the Crusaders backwards. Luke King made a tackle for a loss on third-and-10 to force an important fourth down. St. Bernard’s went back to the air to try to pick up the first down, but sophomore Levi Cox-Cooley managed to knock the ball down with Price also nearby in coverage for a turnover on downs.

The stop fired up Del Norte and Price ran the ball 33 yards on the Warriors’ first play of the subsequent drive to set the team up with first and goal for the Cruaders’ 6 yard line.

Calleja plunged into the end zone two plays later on a 2-yard quarterback sneak and his third rushing touchdown of the day.

The score put the game nearly out of reach for St. Bernard’s at 42-31 with just 2:28 left in the game.

“We were controlling the clock, and we made some interceptions,” Nova said. “The kids just answered through adversity, and we were able to stop them and shut them down when we made mistakes.”

Price put the finishing touches on the win with an interception with a minute left, before taking a knee to run out the clock.

Price played a strong game overall for the Warriors. In addition to the two interceptions, the senior led the team with 179 yards rushing and a touchdown on 17 carries. He also caught a 20-yard touchdown pass, and completed his only pass for 42 yards.

“We look at him as being one of our premier players, and he has got to play like that from game to game,” Nova said. “Early on he was a little tentative, but you got to get going, you have to make a statement, and he really came through there in that second half.”

Puente also ran for over 100 yards in the game, finishing with 107 yards and a touchdown on 12 rushes.

Nova said Del Norte got performances from many different players on the team, including a handful of youngsters making their first appearance with the varsity since there was no junior varsity game this week.

“You sit there and you groom them throughout the season, and coach Mitchell has done a great job with the JV program through the years,” Nova said. “Those kids are able to step in when we are running the basics of our offense and our defense on both levels. So they can step in and contribute in that manner.”

With the win, Del Norte finishes the season 8-2 overall, and the Warriors secured sole possession of second place in a stacked Humboldt-Del Norte Big 4 League with a 2-1 record. After all the Warriors were able to accomplish through the regular season, Nova said he was struck with just how far this team has come after a difficult 3-7 regular season, which included two wins by forfeit.

“It is like coach (Marc) Slayton said, ‘It’s nice to drive down for your last game of the season and know that it means something,’” Nova said. “We could really count on the drive of the kids and the coaches. It is just a great feeling. I’m just so happy for the kids that went through the growing pains that we had last year and are able to know enjoy this.”

NCS Playoffs

The regular season wrapped up on Saturday, and the North Coast Section playoff brackets were released on Sunday. Coaches in the HDN Big 4 have been talking about the impressive strength of the league all season long, and the NCS seemed to agree when it released its seeding.

Fresh off its 42-31 win in Eureka over St. Bernard’s, Del Norte was rewarded with the No. 2 seed in the North Coast Section Division IV playoffs. The Warriors will have a bye through the first round and will host the winner of No. 7 Piedmont and No. 10 Justin-Siena in the quarterfinals on Nov. 9 or 10.

St. Bernard’s was named the No. 5 seed in NCS Division IV and will host No. 12 Albany in the first round Saturday. Fortuna, which finished in last place in the Big 4 standings, also got a home game at the No. 6 seed. The Huskies will host No. 11 El Molino on Friday.

HDN Big 4 league champion Eureka was named the No. 2 seed in the NCS Division III playoffs this year.

Moreau Catholic got the No. 1 seed in Division IV, while Kennedy received the third-seed.

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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