By Ray Hamill — The second half of the Little 4 schedule kicks off at McKinleyville High on Friday, with the Panthers hosting close rivals Arcata under the lights at 7:30 p.m.
And both teams will be looking to get back on track after disappointing outings a week ago.
The Tigers are 2-1 in league play (3-4 overall) and tied atop the standings along with Hoopa Valley and Ferndale, but are coming off a 20-8 loss at Ferndale a week ago.
The Panthers, meanwhile, are winless in the Little 4 (0-3) and 2-5 overall, and will be looking to end a three-game losing skid that, according to head coach Keoki Burbank, has been largely self-imposed.
“I’m not taking anything from the teams that beat us, but when we watch film, we feel like we’re beating ourselves,” the head coach said.
Last week, too many fumbles in wet conditions cost the Panthers any shot at beating Hoopa, while the week before against Ferndale, too many penalties hurt the team.
In the first meeting with the Tigers on Sept. 21, which Arcata won 26-0, the coach says mistakes on basic blocking assignments undermined what the team was trying to do.
“It’s kind of a recurring theme,” Burbank said. “But hopefully this is the week where we put it together.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, come into the game with their own concerns, most notably on the offensive side of the ball.
Too many stalled drives, particularly in the red zone, have been problematic for a team that has played some stellar defense through the opening three league games.
“We’ve got to score, that’s the key, we’ve got to score points,” Arcata head coach Jamal Jones said. “We can’t continue to rely on our defense.”
Despite the concerns on the offensive side of things, the Tigers possess what is arguably the best one-two punch at running back in the Little 4, with Kien Mazzotti and Everett Halikas.
And Burbank expects a challenge trying to contain them.
“Halikas and Mazzotti are quick,” Burbank said. “But they also have a pretty decent passing game. (Quarterback) Matt Robinson has had a decent year, and I know they’re getting healthier … But when you play Arcata it all starts with stopping Mazzotti and the running game.”
The Panthers will suit up 16 players this week, up from the 14 they had against Hoopa, and will add a couple of JV players for some depth.
“You know, we just have to play better,” the head coach said. “We have to try and put together a game we can be proud of.”
Jones, meanwhile, will be looking to challenge his team with the league title and a trip to the postseason up for grabs in the coming weeks.
“No more talking. I told our seniors our season is on the line the next three weeks,” the head coach said. “We’ll see what we’re made of the next three weeks.”
And it all begins at McKinleyville on Friday.
“We’re going to put a lot of pressure on these guys in the first two quarters and I feel they’ll respond the way they should respond,” Jones said of his players. “We’ve got a team full of character.”