Landon Gomes returned the opening kickoff of the game for a touchdown on Friday night, as the Ferndale Wildcats held on for a 21-14 win over the Panthers at McKinleyville High.
In other action, the Arcata Tigers won their third straight game, getting the better of Hoopa 24-16 to go to 2-0 in the Little 4.
Fortuna, meanwhile, had to withstand a lot of mistakes and a fourth-quarter rally to hold on for a 42-40 win at Stellar Prep.
The Del Norte Warriors also got back to winning ways with a 48-20 win at home to Trinity to go to 6-1 on the season.
Ferndale 21, McKinleyville 14
The Wildcats ended a three-game losing streak with a crucial win at McKinleyville, opening up a 21-0 lead by the end of the third quarter, and then withstanding a late Panthers rally.
“You know, I think our kids played well enough for the victory, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Ferndale head coach Clint McClurg said.
The win keeps the Cats in the Little 4 mix at 1-1, just one win behind frontrunners Arcata.
Gomes had another big night and appears to be relishing his new role since switching to running back three weeks ago.
In addition to the kickoff return for the opening touchdown, the junior standout added a rushing touchdown in the second quarter.
The Cats made it a three-TD advantage early in the second half, when sophomore quarterback Jenner Christiansen completed a big fourth-down pass to junior tight end Tristen Martin for what would prove to be the winning score.
The duo also connected for a two-point conversion after the second TD.
Gio Magdaleno added a PAT on his return from injury.
“I’m proud of the kids right now,” McClurg said. “They made some big plays when we needed it.”
Martin also came up with what his coach described as a “monster third-down conversion” late in the game, while capping an impressive night with a strong showing on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Along the line, Orion Benton also had a big night, as did at Nico Alejandre at corner, while Christiansen impressed at times playing his third game at quarterback.
“I think as a sophomore there was some good, some bad and some ugly,” McClurg said of his quarterback. “That’s just part of his development, but I was pleased with his play.”
Sophomore Javier Lopez, who came into the team as cover for injured players early in the season, has been impressing his coaches enough to retain his starting spot, and had another strong showing at corner on Friday.
The Wildcats, who host Arcata next weekend, are now 2-4 on the season.
For Mack, another slow start proved costly.
“I felt like we played bad mentally,” head coach Keoki Burbank said. “We played well physically, but mentally we had a tough time.”
The Panthers added a pair of late touchdowns to pull within a score of the visitors, but were unable to get any closer, dropping to 0-2 in the Little 4 with their second straight loss.
Rylin Grow scored one of Mack’s two TDs on a long run, while quarterback Jack Patton added the second on a short QB sneak.
“We’ve got to do a better job of coming out ready to play,” Burbank said.
Freshman Domomic Kofi displayed plenty of promise with a big game along the line, while lineman Anthony Eggink had a big night filling in for the injured Nate Ballew.
“I think he really stepped up,” Burbank said of Eggink.
Kyler Carr also had a big night filling in for injured fullback Kameron Conlin.
“He ran the ball super hard,” Burbank said of Carr, who has been one of the team’s most consistent performers this season.
Patton also his best game of the season throwing the ball.
“We really fought hard in the fourth quarter and made a game of it,” Burbank said.
The 2-4 Panthers will try to get back on track at home to Hoopa next week.
Fortuna 42, Stellar Prep 40
Fortuna won a wild one with a less than perfect performance on Friday night.
The Huskies had five turnovers, including losing four fumbles in the second half alone.
Down 28-22, Fortuna rallied with 20 unanswered points to lead by 14 late in the game.
A pair of fourth-quarter fumbles at midfield that were each returned for touchdowns by the home team, however, made for a very interesting finish.
The Thunder missed their two-point conversion attempt on the second of those TDs to remain trailing by two, and the visitors were able to run out the clock.
Several injuries to key players didn’t help matters for the Huskies, who made it two straight wins and improved to 5-2 on the season.
Quarterback Zac Claus completed 9-of-15 passes for 147 yards and three touchdowns, while sophomore Levi Nyberg had another big night with a 75-yard kick off return for a TD, his second straight game to so do.
He also came up with a huge fourth-down conversion with a 20-yard run late in the fourth quarter that essentially sealed the win.
Nyberg had 59 of the Huskies’ 203 yards rushing.
Kevin Gage also had a big night with two catches for 67 yards, both going for touchdowns.
Jason Besanceney added 57 yards rushing on seven carries, including a TD, while Deaden Taylor had three catches for 35 yards.