By Ray Hamill — One of the most enduring rivalries in North Coast sports takes center stage this weekend, with the annual Milk Can showdown between Ferndale and Fortuna.
Saturday’s game will take place at Ferndale, with kickoff set for 2 p.m.
“I think it’s a terrific rivalry,” long-time Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow said. “For me, it’s a community game. It’s great for the Eel River valley.”
The Huskies (2-1) will come into this year’s game as favorites against a Ferndale program trying to re-establish itself, but Benbow is taking nothing for granted and knows when it comes to this storied tradition, all bets are off.
“I’ve played in it, I’ve coached in it, and for me, you never know,” he said.
The Huskies are riding a two-game winning streak, having defeated James Logan, the largest school in the North Coast Section, 38-20, a week ago.
Fortuna has responded well from a tough opening loss to Cardinal Newman, one of the top teams in the entire NCS, and has outscored its past two opponents 82-34.
Against James Logan, the Huskies took advantage of a balanced offense, finishing with 197 yards rushing and 194 yards passing, while holding a speedy Colts team in check.
“I was very impressed with how our team responded to a very big team, and a very fast team,” Benbow said. “They put in a hard effort.”
The key to the Huskies’ success in recent years has been their play as a unit, with the team concept always stressed.
And that seems to be continuing this season with numerous players contributing and showcasing the team depth.
A total of 11 different players have accounted for 626 yards rushing, led by Jason Besanceney, Levi Nyberg and Joey Pontes, the latter of whom scored three touchdowns a week ago.
Further showcasing the team depth, seven different players have accounted for 436 yards receiving, led by Nyberg and Adam Medeiros.
The key to all of that balance, however, has been the play of quarterback Zac Claus.
“He’s kind of our trigger guy,” Benbow said of the senior, who has completed 28-of-39 passes for 436 yards and four TDs, while also rushing for 99 and two more TDs.
Pontes has also been key for the Huskies on both sides of the ball, despite missing the second game due to injury.
“He’s a defensive kind of guy, flying around doing some good things,” Benbow said.
Along both lines, Sheaden Kadle continues to dominate and lead the way.
Another tough challenge
The Wildcats (1-1), meanwhile are coming off an impressive win over Willits, blowing a tight game open with 34 unanswered points in the second half on the way to a 55-25 victory.
The win — and the performance — was the perfect response from a team that fell hard at Del Norte in its opener two weeks prior.
The points total was the most for the Cats in almost two years, with quarterback Landon Gomes laying down a marker.
The athletic junior threw for four TDs against the Wolverines, while adding a fifth on a pick six on the defensive side of the ball.
Kyler Becksted has also been one of the Wildcats’ more consistent performers on both sides of the ball, while Rex Rolf has stepped in at running back and impressed after a couple of key injuries for Ferndale early in the season.
The offensive line also had an outstanding day against Willits, dominating throughout.
And because of that, and the history of the rivalry, Benbow is expecting a tough challenge on Saturday.
“Every year with Ferndale, they have good athletes and they’re going to be well coached,” the Fortuna coach said. “And they’re going to execute offensively and defensively, and they’re going to play hard and play till the end of the game. So we’re going to have to play four quarters.”
For the Huskies, the game plan is a simple one — literally.
“We need to basically block and tackle. It’s as simple as that,” Benbow said. “If we do our job, we’re going to be fine.”
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