By Ray Hamill — The Panthers had a late change in plans this week, scheduling a game at San Rafael for Friday night.
In what was supposed to be a bye week for the Mack players, they found out that next week’s opponent, Healdsburg, has been forced to cancel its team for the season.
McKinleyville head coach Keoki Burbank then arranged to play San Rafael, which was supposed to play Healdsburg this weekend, giving the Panthers a bye next week instead.
“I’m super proud of my guys,” Burbank said. “Because you go into a bye week with a different mentality, and when they found out on Tuesday, they got mentally back into game week with a sense of urgency.”
The good news for the Panthers is that this week’s opponents feature a pass-heavy offense, which they had prepared for last week.
“They pass the ball a lot,” said Burbank, who also was behind schedule in his preparation this week after only receiving game film on the Bulldogs on Tuesday. “But we already had a pass-focus defense in for St. Bernard’s, so we were able to carry that over.”
26-game losing streak
The Bulldogs lost their season opener at home to St. Vincent de Paul, 44-30, the same opponent the Panthers lost to, 18-0, two weeks ago.
But San Rafael has struggled to field a competitive team in recent years, and is currently riding a 26-game losing streak dating back to September 2015.
Panthers fall to St. Bernard’s — St, Bernard’s rolled over McKinleyville 41-7, making it two straight blowouts to start the campaign, with several new faces quickly establishing themselves as the next wave of Crusaders stars.
That, however, doesn’t mean they won’t present a challenge for Burbank and his players, who are taking nothing for granted.
“They have a quarterback who has a strong arm, and is a good athlete,” the head coach said. “And they have a wide receiver who is pretty talented.”
Mack is off to an 0-2 start this year, including a 41-7 loss to a tough St. Bernard’s team last weekend.
Defensively, however, the Panthers have shown some promise, with players like Nate Ballew, Tom Locatelli, Kyler Carr and Caleb Martinez all contributing.
Martinez and Kameron Conlin also present a challenge running the ball on offense, with their different styles complementing each other. Martinez ran for 120 yards against the Crusaders.
A work in progress
The Panthers passing game, however, remains a work in progress.
Senior Rylin Grow got the start at QB in week one, before giving way to junior Jack Patton, who brings more starting experience at the position having played two years with the JVs.
But the blame for lack of production through the air (91 yards through two games) doesn’t lie solely with the quarterbacks.
“Our running game has to set up the passing game,” Burbank said. “But we do need to do better.”
Penalties have also been a problem for the Panthers through the early going, something the head coach is hoping to see clear up this weekend.
“I want to see us tackle better, I want us to finish blocks, and I want our running backs to hit the hole a little harder,” the coach said. “And I want to cut down on penalties.”
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Despite the poor start in terms of wins and losses, however, Burbank says his players remain focused.
“The vibe is still positive,” he said. “And everybody’s really working to have a good season.”
Friday’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m.