(Updated with correct NCS rankings on Oct. 18)
By Ray Hamill — It was an emotionally-charged weekend on the local football fields, with big wins for Del Norte, Hoopa Valley and Arcata, and a first meeting between crosstown rivals St. Bernard’s and Eureka in more than half a century.
The Big 4 got underway with a bang when Del Norte defeated Fortuna on Friday night, followed a day later by an expected comfortable win for the Loggers over the Crusaders.
In the Little 4, meanwhile, both Arcata and Hoopa Valley pulled out wins to set up a championship decider at the Redwood Bowl this Friday night.
Here then are five takeaways …
1 — Loggers are tops in Eureka — for now
This was never going to be an easy introduction to the Big 4 for St. Bernard’s.
The Crusaders are young, featuring mostly underclassmen, and were matching up with one of the best Eureka teams in some time, and an experienced, deep squad that is currently ranked 32 spots ahead of them in the North Coast Section.
In St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin’s words, Eureka is a special team, and it is one with far bigger ambitions than merely winning the league title this season.
They have not disappointed either, living up to their billing as the dominant force in North Coast football, and steamrolling their way to an 8-0 record.
On Saturday, they celebrated homecoming in front a large crowd at Albee Stadium by comfortably taking care of the Crusaders, 54-21.
It was only the second ever meeting between the two programs and the first since 1962.
But St. Bernard’s is likely to be staying in the Big 4 for the foreseeable future, and so this is a rivalry that could now be around for a while.
Judging by the interest this season, that could be a good thing.
The two schools are rivals in other sports, and they should be in football as well.
And it’s not always going to be this lopsided.
In fairness to the St. Bernard’s players, they battled hard and took the game to the home team, although it was one they were never going to win.
Going forward, St. Bernard’s now has a huge showdown at Fortuna on Friday night, while the Loggers will be expected to take care of Del Norte at Albee Stadium under the lights on Friday night.
Bigger tests await the Loggers down the road, but they do indeed look like a special team right now.
2 — Del Norte Warriors make a statement
What a difference three weeks can make.
We all suspected the Warriors would not be beaten by as much against the Huskies this time around (they lost by 30 points at Fortuna on Sept. 21), but I’m not sure many of us expected them to run out to a 49-42 win.
In the game of the season so far here on the North Coast, the Warriors won an old-fashioned shootout, with senior running back Sebastian Puente rushing for four TDs, a performance that earns him Humboldt Sports Athlete of the Week honors.
It wasn’t just that the Warriors beat a very good Fortuna team, it was the manner in which they did it, answering the call every time the Huskies scored.
In that regard, it was a statement win from a team that is most definitely back in the mix for the NCS this season.
The Warriors will still likely lose at Eureka this weekend, but Friday’s win over the highly-ranked defending 5-A state champions will give them some recognition in the Division-IV Section rankings.
The St. Bernard’s game on the final week of the regular season still looms large for the Warriors, but judging by this past weekend’s performance, they’ll be a tough out come the playoffs.
3 — Hoopa likely headed back to the playoffs
And speaking of the playoffs, it appears as if Hoopa Valley is headed back there for the first time since 2011.
The Warriors knocked off Ferndale 32-0 over the weekend, with arguably their best performance of the season.
Having not beaten the Wildcats in 23 years coming into this season — 42 consecutive games — they have now beaten them twice in three weeks, including Saturday’s decisive victory.
It was also the Warriors’ first shutout in seven years, and gives them five wins on the season, which should should be good enough to see them return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Just as importantly, however, it now gives Hoopa an opportunity to clinch a first league title in a lot longer than that.
With the win, they improved to 3-1 in the Little 4 and are now tied atop the standings with just two games remaining.
New Hoopa head coach William Simms and his staff deserve a ton of credit for putting the Warriors back on the map this fall, and they appear to be growing stronger as the season goes on.
4 — Arcata answers the call
And speaking of teams riding high in the standings, the Arcata Tigers defeated close rivals McKinleyville for the second time this season over the weekend, improving to 3-1 in league play.
The Tigers are tied with Hoopa atop the L4, and the two teams meet at the Redwood Bowl on Friday night in a championship game of sorts, with the winner guaranteed at least a share of the Little 4.
Arcata head coach Jamal Jones challenged his offense last week after a disappointing loss at Ferndale, and the Tigers responded against the Panthers, coming out strong and dominating along the line as they quickly pulled out to an 18-0 first-half lead and never looked back.
Arcata’s defense has been dominating the rest of the Little 4 this season, and if the offense can continue to match last week’s performance, the Tigers will be dangerous going forward.
Friday night’s game now takes on huge significance for both teams.
5 — North Coast teams riding high in NCS rankings
The Humboldt-Del Norte League still has three teams in the top six in the NCS Division IV rankings, with Fortuna ranked No. 2 behind Moreau Catholic, followed by No. 3 Del Norte and No. 6 St. Bernard’s.
With St. Bernard’s still to play both Fortuna and Del Norte in the final two weeks of the regular season, there’s still some serious reshuffling to play for.
Regardless of who’s seeded where, it should be an interesting bracket for local fans when the playoffs get under way in three weeks.
Eureka (8-0), meanwhile, is also getting plenty of respect from the NCS after a dominating season, and is ranked second among Division-III schools, behind Cardinal Newman (7-1).
In Division V, meanwhile, Hoopa (5-3) is No. 9 after its big win at Ferndale, while Arcata (4-4) is currently No. 11.
Ferndale is one spot behind Arcata.
In eight-man football, South Fork (6-2) defeated Upper Lake over the weekend and is now ranked No. 4, with Branson (6-0) No. 1.