By Ray Hamill … The Arcata Tigers join the Little 4 this season after being bumped down in the recent realignment of the Humboldt-Del Norte League, although they’re hoping it will be a brief stay.
“We want to get back to the Big 5,” Arcata head coach Jamal Jones said. “We want to play against the best.”
To do so, the Tigers will have to show they’re the best team in the Little 4 over the next two seasons, and there’s every reason to believe they are.
Under Jones’ guidance over the past two seasons, the Tigers have steadily improved from 1-8 the year before he took over to 5-6 in 2016 and 8-5 last year.
The Tigers even won a playoff game in 2017, a notable step forward for a program that has not won a league title since 2012 and finished last in the standings for three straight years before Jones took over.
This year’s team features a handful of key returning players who appear eager to take another step forward in 2018.
The experienced Francis Ford will switch from receiver to quarterback this season, with Paul Lauermann leading the way at receiver and defensive back.
Along the line, returning starters Justin Grandfield and Max Rice are expected to be major players, along with seniors Matt Jioras and Hyrum Dieker.
The versatile Kevin Madero also returns as a starter and will give Jones and his staff some options on both sides of the ball.
“He does everything for us,” Jones said of Madero. “He’ll play receiver, running back, safety, linebacker, wherever we need him.”
As a group, Jones says he likes his team’s chemistry and believes that will be crucial if they are to succeed this season.
“Right now, definitely our strength is that they play as a unit,” the head coach said of his players. “With small football teams, you’ve got to make sure these guys play as a unit.”
Last season’s playoff loss has also served as extra motivation for Jones and his players.
In a game they feel they should have won, the Tigers made too many mistakes and trailed 21-0 early in a 34-29 loss to Clear Lake.
“That’s all we’ve been talking about,” Jones said. “Any time you lose the way we lost that football game, the very next week we were watching game film and trying to figure out how to be a better football team.”
The Tigers open the season at St. Helena on Aug. 18, one of only two scheduled games against out-of-area opposition all season.
Arcata will enter the Little 4 as the favorite to win the title, although Ferndale could be well positioned to battle the Tigers all the way.
The two league showdowns between the two teams will be crucial, with the Cats hosting on Oct. 6 and the Tigers returning the favor on Oct. 26 in the season finale and a game that could decide the championship.
Aug. 18 at St. Helena 7 p.m.
Aug. 24 Del Norte 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 St. Bernard’s 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 at Willits 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 McKinleyville 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Hoopa Valley 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 6 at Ferndale 2 p.m.
Oct. 12 at McKinleyville 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 Hoopa Valley 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 Ferndale 7 p.m.