By Ray Hamill — The Warriors will be looking for some momentum heading into the postseason, while the Panthers will be looking for a first league win, when the two teams meet in Hoopa Valley on Friday night.
Hoopa comes into the final regular season game at 3-2 in the Little 4 and 5-4 overall, and still retains an outside chance of sharing the league title, which would be the program’s first in at least a couple of decades.
They also still hope to host a playoff game.
If Hoopa can beat McKinleyville, and Ferndale beats Arcata at the Redwood Bowl, also on Friday night, there will be a three-way tie atop the league standings.
It will then go to a coin toss on Saturday to see who gets the opportunity to host a home playoff game as league champion.
As it stands, Hoopa is currently ranked No. 10 among North Coast Section Division-V teams, one spot behind Arcata and one ahead of Ferndale.
“Anything’s possible,” Hoopa head coach William Simms said.
The Warriors defeated the Panthers in muddy wet conditions at McKinleyville High three weeks ago, breaking open a tight game with two fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 22-12 win.
Last week, however, the Warriors fell to Arcata for the second time in league play, and saw any chances of claiming the league crown outright slip away.
McKinleyville, meanwhile, comes into the game at 2-7 and riding a five-game losing streak.
As a program, the Panthers have taken some big strides this season, most notably fielding a competitive team, and head coach Keoki Burbank is hoping to see his players close out with a bang.
“I’m looking for our guys to play hard and leave everything out there,” the head coach said. “We’re not going to the playoffs and we’ve nothing to look forward to this season as far as continuing to play, but I want our seniors to leave knowing they played the best possible game they could have, and I want our juniors to have some momentum heading into the offseason.”
And Burbank is expecting another tough challenge from a Hoopa team that is more versatile than any other Little 4 opponent.
The Warriors can ground it out behind big fullback Kimit Peters and a physical line, and also have some home run hitters like Sam Jones.
And for good measure, QB John Smith has arguably the top tandem of receivers in the Little 4 in Carlos Aguilar and Jasper Hostler.
“They have that big fullback that’s hard to tackle,” Burbank said of Peters. “He’s a hard runner. He’s difficult to bring down.”
Carr leads the way on defense
Kyler Carr is fourth in the NCS in tackles (109), and leads a Mack defense that has been a handful for its league opponents.
Offensively, however, the Panthers have struggled to maintain much consistency, with a plethora of mistakes stalling drives.
A young junior-heavy team, however, has gained some valuable experience this season and will be looking to cap that with some momentum heading into the offseason.
The Warriors come into the weekend “pretty banged up” right now, according to Simms.
Starters Tristen Campbell (RB/LB), lineman Sunny Jarnaghan and DB/RB/WR William Reynolds are all out for the game.
“We’re supposed to have some depth, so we’ll see how it plays out,” Simms said.
To get the better of the Panthers, the Hoopa head coach says his players will have to play better than they did in last week’s loss.
“We have to play disciplined football,” Simms said. “I feel like last week we had too many many penalties.”