By Ray Hamill — The wow factor was in effect on the local prep football fields over the weekend.
It was there at Husky Field, where Fortuna and St. Bernard’s served up the latest thrilling installment of their budding rivalry.
It was there at the Redwood Bowl, where the Arcata defense stepped up once again to put a dent in Hoopa Valley’s Little 4 ambitions.
And it was most certainly there at Albee Stadium, where the Loggers celebrated a stellar senior class with another stellar performance.
Here then are five takeaways from the weekend in prep football …
1 — Loggers on a mission
Eureka celebrated senior night with another big performance from this talented and deep senior class on the way to comfortably defeating Del Norte 44-6.
If there was any doubt the Loggers would win the new-look Big 4 this season, it was laid to rest in emphatic fashion on Friday night.
The Loggers are simply on a whole different level to the rest of the league right now, and it would be a major surprise if a wounded Fortuna team seriously troubles them in both teams’ regular season finale next weekend.
After that, it’s on to the playoffs for the 9-0 Loggers, and that’s what they’ve been building toward all year long.
An experienced and senior-heavy team came into the season with the weight of heavy expectations, and they have lived up to those expectations and more thus far, taking a one game at a time mentality.
But the second part of this journey, the one that will ultimately define the legacy of this year’s team, begins in two weeks.
They’re healthy, composed and playing some fantastic football right now.
“These guys are hungry, and are just peaking at the right time,” head coach Jason White said. “And we’re on a mission at this point.”
2 — The best new rivalry on the North Coast
Fortuna and St. Bernard’s may not be traditional rivals on the football field, but you get the feeling that if they do meet again in the playoffs it will be the hottest ticket in town.
On Friday night, the two teams served up a thriller at Husky Field, with the visiting Crusaders winning in overtime, 56-54.
Coupled with Fortuna’s exciting 34-33 win over the Crusaders in the postseason a year ago, these two teams seem to bring out the best in each other.
St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin described Friday’s clash as one of the most exciting games he’s ever been a part of, while Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow described it as a game where “both offenses were very good and both defenses were not very good.”
Either way, it was an enthralling back-and-forth affair, and in the past two games against each other they have combined for 177 points, an average of more than three touchdowns a quarter.
The NCS Division-IV postseason bracket is an intriguing one for local fans, with three teams continuing to feature at the top of the rankings.
This week, Del Norte moves up one spot to second, while Fortuna drops two spots to fourth, and St. Bernard’s remains steady at sixth.
St. Bernard’s hosts Del Norte on Saturday in the Big 4 finale and another game that will impact the postseason positioning.
3 — Cubs poised for another big playoff run
Led by the outstanding senior tandem of Cody Wyatt and C.J. Van Meter, the South Fork Cubs continue to impress in eight-man football, recently winning the North Central-III North Division, and this weekend improving to 7-2 with a very comprehensive 76-12 win over a first-year Roseland University Prep program in Santa Rosa.
The Cubs have struggled to find games this season with some of their opponents dropping their teams, including next weekend’s scheduled opponent, Point Arena.
Head coach Karl Terrell managed to schedule the Roseland game at the last minute, giving his players some much-needed playing time heading into the playoffs in two weeks.
The defending eight-man NCS champions are currently ranked No. 3 in the Section, behind Branson and Stuart Hall.
Offensively, they have been on fire all season, putting up 144 points in the past two games alone.
But their playoff push will depend on whether they can continue to come together defensively, something they have been showing signs of recently.
They will open the postseason with a home game.
4 — Arcata D continues to lead the way
Arcata head coach Jamal Jones has challenged his offense in recent weeks, and the team has responded with continued improvement from a developing pass attack and a dynamic running game.
But the Tigers’ push for a first league crown in six years and a third straight postseason berth has been founded on their defense.
And that was the case once again on Friday night, as the Arcata players stifled a dangerous and versatile Hoopa offense, particularly late in the game when they needed it the most.
The Tigers D has been the most consistent unit in the Little 4 this season and that continued this weekend.
Arcata has given up just seven TDs on defense in five league games, and that has laid the foundation for the Tigers to win five of their past six games and put a tough start to the season behind them.
Offensively, quarterback Matt Robinson continues to grow into the role after beginning the season as a back-up to injured starter Francis Ford.
Robinson is not the best quarterback on the North Coast, but he is surely the most improved this season.
Add to that a dynamic two-pronged ground attack, and you’ve got the formula for success.
If the Tigers (5-4) can solve their persistent red-zone meltdowns, they will be a tough out in the NCS.
5 — Little 4 comes down to the wire
One thing we’ve learned from the Little 4 this season — never count Ferndale out.
The Cats stormed back into contention for a league crown with an inspirational 38-21 win over McKinleyville on Saturday afternoon, after losing their star player, Landon Gomes.
The win gives Ferndale a shot at sharing the league crown, which would be the team’s first since 2013.
At the very least, it leaves the Cats (4-5 overall) controlling their own fate going into the season finale at the Redwood Bowl next Friday night.
A competitive Little 4 could yet end in a three-way tie, if Ferndale (3-2 in league) can top Arcata (4-1) and Hoopa Valley (3-2) beats McKinleyville at home.
There’s little separating these three in the NCS Division-V rankings either, with Arcata No. 9, followed immediately by Hoopa and Ferndale.