Hoopa Valley closed out an impressive regular season with a 22-12 win at home to McKinleyville on Friday night, giving the Warriors some momentum heading into the playoffs.
With Arcata defeating Ferndale at the Redwood Bowl, Hoopa saw any chances of sharing the Little 4 championship and earning a possible home playoff game slip away.
But it’s been a memorable campaign for them, and one that will see them return to the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
“It’s been an historical year for us,” Hoopa head coach William Simms said afterward, paying tribute to his coaching staff for helping turn around the program’s fortunes.
It was indeed historic for Hoopa, with the Warriors knocking off Ferndale for the first time in 42 attempts and 23 years, and they had so much fun doing that, they did it a second time three weeks later.
The Warriors, who finished second in the Little 4 with a 4-2 record, close out the regular season 6-4.
“We’re back in the playoffs, so we achieved that goal we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year,” Simms said.
Senior Leonard Smith had a big game in his final home game, as did his brother, junior John Smith.
The elder brother scored a pair of touchdowns, one of them on a 60-yard kickoff return.
“The Smith brothers played their tails off,” Simms said. “Leonard stepped up big time when we needed him too. He played like it was the last time he was playing in Hoopa.”
Big fullback Kimit Peters also had a productive night, scoring the other Warriors TD.
The Panthers, who closed out league play winless, scored a pair of second-half touchdowns to make a game of it, one on a 70-yard Kaden Redner fumble recovery return and one on a 15-yard Rylin Grow run.
“We played decent in the second half,” McKinleyville head coach Keoki Burbank said.
With the loss, the Panthers close out the season at 2-8 and will miss out on the North Coast Section playoffs.
But a program that failed to even complete the 2017 season made some serious strides in 2018.
“When I look back years later on this team, I’m going to look back and see a team that never quit,” Burbank said. “They kept fighting, they never quit, and that’s a great attribute to have. And I’m really proud of that.”