By Ray Hamill — Both the Panthers and Wildcats will look to get back on track when they meet at McKinleyville High in a Little 4 showdown on Friday night.
The game will be the first at home this season for the Panthers, who were shutout at Arcata last week, 26-0.
With the loss, McKinleyville dropped to 0-1 in league play and 2-3 overall.
Ferndale, meanwhile, traveled to Hoopa for its league opener, falling 36-26 to the Warriors, their first loss to Hoopa in 23 years, and dropping to 1-4 on the season.
Injuries haven’t helped either team this season, although that’s only been a part of the problem, with Wildcats head coach Clint McClurg looking for a more disciplined performance from his defense this week.
“Right now we need to be a little bit more self-disciplined in terms of alignment and assignments defensively,” McClurg said. “And we need to do basic fundamental things like tackling and working on leverage.”
Switch paying off for Gomes, Cats
Offensively, the Cats changed things up recently, moving junior Landon Gomes from quarterback to running back, and it’s a move that appears to have paid immediate dividends.
The athletic Gomes has rushed for 300 yards in two games since the switch, averaging 6.4 yards a carry.
And that has opened up the passing game for new quarterback Jenner Christiansen.
“Putting (Gomes) there has really helped in terms of balance,” the head coach said. “It has really opened up our play action passing, as well as our misdirection.”
Christiansen, a sophomore, has also impressed since the switch.
“That kid lets his left hand go,” McClurg said with a smile. “He’s a god conductor of our offense. He distributes the ball really well and he’s got good footwork.”
The coach admits, however, he would like to see better “cohesion” from the passing game in general.
Ballew expected to play
The Panthers, meanwhile, had to overcome a pair of key injuries in last week’s loss to Arcata, with senior Kameron Conlin stretchered off the field with a back injury and Nate Ballew forced out with an ankle injury.
Conlin’s injury was not as bad as first feared, and although he will miss this week’s game, he could return to the lineup as soon as next week.
Ballew, who has been a key presence along the line for the Panthers this season, will be limited against Ferndale, but is expected to play.
And Mack head coach Keoki Burbank is expecting another tough matchup for his players against the Cats.
“They’re always a physical team, and they never quit,” Burbank said of Ferndale. “They pound on you. And they ran the ball really well against Hoopa.”
Burbank admits that last week’s game was a bit of an eye opener for some of his younger players after a couple of big road wins against weaker opponents.
But he also feels that it was just an assortment of little mistakes that ultimately cost his team, the type of mistakes he hopes can be eliminated.
“We watched the film, and over and over and over it was one guy doing the wrong thing on every play that kept us from making a play,” he said. “If we clean those things up and do the right things, it’s a much closer game.”
McClurg is also expecting a battle for his players.
“I think they’re pretty similar to us, in that they’re trying to get their groove going a little bit, but they do have athletes,” the Ferndale head coach said of the Panthers. “McKinleyville is hungry. And so are we.”
The Wildcats, who have been hit hard by injuries this season, will get a boost from the return of lineman Dominic Regli and receiver/DB Gio Magdaleno, who were each forced to sit out last week.