By Ray Hamill — The final weekend of the regular season serves up a handful of highly anticipated games, none more so than the showdown in Fortuna between the two best high school teams on the North Coast over the past 15 months.
The game itself may have lost some of its luster with the Huskies’ back-to-back defeats over the past two weekends, but it’s still a matchup local fans will relish, and arguably the most anticipated clash of the season.
The high-flying Loggers are 2-0 in the Big 4 and come into the game as heavy favorites after big wins over both Del Norte and St Bernard’s, two teams who got the better of Fortuna.
The Loggers have been dominating teams well beyond the Big 4 all season, and have comfortably rolled to a 9-0 record against quality opponents, with a group of experienced players that appear focused and energized by the high expectations placed on them this year, instead of folding under the pressure of them.
“They understand the importance of preparation every week,” Eureka head coach Jason White said of his players. “We rarely have a bad practice.”
Fortuna comes into the game at 0-2 in the Big 4 and 5-4 overall.
A win on Friday for Eureka would give the Loggers a second consecutive unbeaten regular season.
Eureka easily dispatched of Del Norte last week by a score of 44-6, while Fortuna lost an overtime thriller at home to St. Bernard’s by a score of 56-54.
The Huskies have had problems on the defensive side of the ball for the second half of the season, giving up an average of 45 points a game over the past five games, including 105 in two league games.
A Loggers offense that has been carving up opposing defenses all season will take advantage of that unless the Huskies can come up with a much-improved performance.
Conversely, however, the Huskies have been impressive on the offensive side of things, carving up opposing defenses themselves in recent weeks.
With senior quarterback Zac Claus directing the offense with precision, the Huskies have scored 96 points in their two Big 4 games, and have surpassed the 40-point mark in five of their past six games.
“They’re scoring 40 points a game the last four games, so obviously that’s something we’ve got to look at,” White said.
The Huskies are a little beat-up right now, with a handful of key players being sidelined the past couple of weeks, but this is a Fortuna team that does have some depth and plenty of versatility.
They throw a lot of different formations at opponents, and that’s something else the Loggers will have to account for this weekend.
“And they’ve got a good offensive line,” White said.
Plenty of weapons
As good as Claus has been this season, Eureka senior quarterback Cruz Montana has been every bit as impressive.
The Loggers signal caller has now completed 121-of-183 passes for 2,026 yards, 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
And if the Huskies have depth, the Loggers have even more so, with more offensive weapons than any other team in the area.
A total of 10 different players have double digits in carries this season, led by the bruising tandem of Robert Weir and Alex Miller.
Weir now has team-highs in carries (66) and rushing yards (505), while Miller, who has been limited by a lingering ankle injury the past few weeks, has 60 carries for 364.
The good news for Eureka fans is that Miller appears to be back to full health, and probably now more eager than ever.
Which might be bad news for the Huskies.
Both Weir and Miller each also have five rushing touchdowns, one behind team leader Ryan Sylvia, who has been a big-play, breakaway threat in the backfield for much of the season.
Other players like Casey Sidoti and Lamarie Dunn have seen their carries increase in recent weeks and each has not disappointed.
Another big playmaker, Isley Tulmau, also returns from an elbow injury this week.
Tulmau has 299 yards rushing a a team-high 27 receptions for 417 yards, while senior receiver Tony Barreno has team-highs in receiving yards (472) and receiving TDs (seven).
Tyce Mullins, who has been a defensive nightmare at linebacker for oppents all season, has also made some big contributions on offense, with 19 receptions at tight end for 317 yards, with six of those catches going for TDs.
All of this behind the best-coached offensive line on the North Coast.
The Loggers are currently ranked No. 2 in NCS Division-III, behind a very strong Cardinal Newman team, and a win over Fortuna on Friday would likely secure the second seed for the playoffs.