By Ray Hamill — All four teams in the Big 4 will have a bye this coming weekend, and all four have some issues to address before opening their league schedule next week.
Three of the four posted wins over the weekend, and their combined record of 23-5 this season is impressive by any standards.
All four, however, have shown some flaws in recent weeks, and that gives them something to focus on before the Big 4.
Which might be a good thing.
Here then are five takeaways from the weekend in prep football …
1 — Arcata the team to beat in the Little 4
No one’s suggesting a competitive Little 4 is over quite yet, but two weeks in the Tigers have emerged as the team to beat.
Arcata made it 2-0 in league play over the weekend, twice coming from behind in a 24-16 win at Hoopa Valley.
With four games remaining, they are just one win up on both Ferndale (1-1) and Hoopa (1-1), so there’s still a long way to go.
But the Tigers have been efficient moving the ball, while their defense has given up just two TDs in those two games, with back-to-back impressive showings.
The Tigers have had to overcome more early-season injuries than any team in the area, as well as a tough schedule to start the season, but they have emerged from that a better team.
With three straight wins, they’ll head to Ferndale this week with plenty of confidence, although they’ll likely have their hands full against a Wildcats team that will be riding some momentum after beating McKinleyville last week.
It’s been far from perfect for Arcata, with way too many drives stalling in the red zone, but through the opening two weeks of league play they certainly look like the team to beat.
2 — Loggers holding themselves to a higher standard
The Loggers have been pretty impressive this year, and in fairness there’s not much to fault about a team that is 7-0, and one that is beating quality opposition by very comfortable margins.
But this is a team, that by its own admission, holds itself to a higher standard, and one that has every reason to.
And it’s a group of players that know they won’t get away with some of the mistakes they’re making against better teams.
The Loggers have taken a one-game-at-a-time approach this season, and it’s paid off for them. They have been focused every week — for the most part — while not taking any of their opponents too lightly.
It’s also a group of players that appear to be holding themselves accountable when they do make mistakes or underperform, and that augurs well going forward.
According to head coach Jason White, the players acted almost more like it had been a loss after dominating Livermore 34-0 on Saturday, because they felt they had underperformed.
The Loggers play an aggressive style of football, and there’s a fine line between aggressive football and lots of penalties.
They’re not going to change who they are, nor should they.
But fumbles, penalties, and some inconsistent play on offense from time to time, have been a reoccurring concern.
This is a team loaded enough to get past a lot of teams playing well below its best, but these are the type of mistakes that would cost them against a team like Cardinal Newman in the postseason.
if the Loggers are going to fulfill their playoff ambitions, they’ll have to tidy some things up.
But the good thing is, they know this.
3 — Wake-up calls all around
The Loggers weren’t the only team that didn’t play to its potential over the weekend.
Uncharacteristic turnovers were problematic for both St. Bernard’s and Fortuna, while Hoopa lost an opportunity to take a major step toward ending its long run without a league title.
The Crusaders lost 23-21 at Tri-Cities Prep in Washington, while the Huskies held on to win 42-40 at Stellar Prep in the Bay Area despite some late giveaways that led to a pair of home touchdowns and a failed late two-point attempt that would have tied the game.
Both of these squads are enjoying impressive seasons and both are expected to make some serious noise in the playoffs this season.
For now, though, each has some ball protection issues to deal with during their bye week, and once again that might be a good thing, giving them something to focus on.
As for Hoopa, they lost a close one to Arcata in a crucial Little 4 showdown.
They’ll try to bounce back at Mack on Friday night, and as head coach William Simms said, they’ll see Arcata again in a few weeks.
4 — Ferndale Wildcats not done yet
The Wildcats ended a three-game losing streak with a 21-14 win at McKinleyville, putting them right back in the thick of things in the race for the Little 4.
The Cats, 1-1 in league play, can join the Tigers atop the standings with a win over them in Ferndale on Saturday, and they should be up for the occasion.
Switching Landon Gomes to running back is a move that appears to be paying off more and more for the Cats, who have also had to overcome a lot of early-season injuries but appear to be getting somewhat healthier.
5 — The Big 4 is almost here
All four teams in the Big 4 have a bye this weekend before kicking off league play next week.
And it should be an exciting race — sort of.
The Eureka Loggers will go in as the clear favorites, and there is little doubt they are the best team on the North Coast.
But the three other squads are all competitive, and all three will be battling for playoff positioning, even if a league crown might be beyond them.
It should be a fascinating campaign, heightened by the fact there are only three games for every team, making each that much more important.
The action gets under way next week with St. Bernard’s traveling to Eureka and Del Norte hosting Fortuna.