By Ray Hamill — There was a limited slate of games over the weekend, with just four of the nine local prep teams in action.
That, however, doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of talking points.
Here then are five takeaways from the weekend action …
1 — Ferndale back in the game
The Ferndale Wildcats posted their second league win over the weekend to put themselves right back in the thick of the race for the Little 4.
A 20-8 win over Arcata at Ferndale on Saturday catapulted the Cats back to the top of the standings, and into a three-way tie with Hoopa Valley and Arcata.
All three teams are 2-1 at the halfway mark of the Little 4 schedule, and all three have everything to play for over the next three weeks.
Ferndale dropped its league opener at Hoopa on Sept. 21, losing to the Warriors for the first time in 23 years and dropping to 1-4 on the season.
Injuries were having a near devastating effect on a team that was in danger of falling into a free fall.
But head coach Clint McClurg and his staff kept the players focused, and after back-to-back wins the Cats are now right back in the thick of the chase again, with plenty of momentum and a new lease of life.
The return of Hunter Barnes from a knee injury has been a boost in more ways than one, and the entire defense looks reinvigorated.
The Cats host Hoopa on Saturday and will be looking to gain a measure of revenge, while taking what would be a big step toward their first league title in five years.
2 — Big 4 is finally here
The Big 4 kicks off this Friday, with six highly-anticipated matchups on tap over a 16-day period.
It should be fun.
It should also be an intriguing campaign for many reasons.
Eureka (7-0) is the heavy favorite and has not lost to a local opponent since falling to Del Norte in October 2016.
The league, however, is about a lot more than just the Loggers, and all four teams are expected to make some noise in the postseason this fall, having gone a combined 22-4 against non-league teams this year.
St. Bernard’s (5-2) joins the league for the first time and will play crosstown rival Eureka this Saturday in a rare matchup between the two schools.
Fortuna (5-2), meanwhile, is the defending 5-A state champion, and while this year’s team features a lot of new faces, the Huskies are always a dangerous opponent under head coach Mike Benbow and are proving to be so again this year.
Del Norte (6-1) also has impressed most of the season, and will have a point to prove when hosting Fortuna this Friday night.
The Huskies dominated the Warriors 62-32 late last month in a non-league showdown at Fortuna, and Del Norte will be looking for some revenge in Crescent City.
The Big 4 begins this week, and It should be an interesting ride.
3 — Arcata D still a force
Arcata lost for the first time in league play over the weekend, falling 20-8 at Ferndale.
The loss ended a three-game winning streak, and sees the Tigers fall back to 2-1 in the Little 4, alongside Ferndale and Hoopa.
But one thing was evident in the loss — the Tigers defense is still a force to be reckoned with.
Through their three league games, the Tigers have allowed a total of five touchdowns, but only three on the defensive side of the ball.
Hoopa scored on a kick return a week ago, and Ferndale on a fumble recovery this past weekend, but the Tigers D has continued to play strong.
Despite the loss, the Tigers are still right in the chase for the championship, and have been the most impressive of the three co-leaders through the opening three games.
And that’s largely down to their defense.
4 — Hoopa responds again
The Warriors responded to a tough loss at home to Arcata the previous week with a hard-fought 22-12 victory at McKinleyville on Friday night.
The game was a sloppy one played in wet conditions, but the Warriors were value for their win, grinding out an impressive performance.
Running back Kimit Peters and the play of the both lines (and linebackers) was key to the victory, with the big bruising back wearing down the Mack D and opening things up for the Warriors’ big stable of playmakers.
Quarterback John Smith and receiver Jasper Hostler combined for what would be the winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter and each has emerged as legitimate playmakers in recent weeks.
The Warriors will have their hands full at Ferndale this week against a Cats team determined to get their revenge.
But they’ll go into the game with some momentum after a crucial win at McKinleyville.
5 — McKinleyville football not backing down
It might seem strange to say after a third straight loss, but the Panthers have been one of the most impressive teams on the North Coast this season.
Mental mistakes on a young team has been part of the problem, but not the only one, and the Panthers simply don’t have the same depth and talent as the rest of the Humboldt-Del Norte League.
But you can’t help but admire a Panthers squad that is light years removed from a 2017 team that had to cancel its season after three games.
Not just because of the fact they’re playing football, but because of the way they’re playing.
This is a team that never quits, and that was obvious on Friday, with just 14 players on the roster, and each of them battling all the way to final buzzer.
Over the first three league games, the Panthers have suffered some devastating injuries, and plenty of mental setbacks, but they have clawed their way back late in each of the past two games, only to fall short.
The Panthers deserve plenty of credit not just for the fact they are playing football this season, but more so for the manner in which they’re playing.