By Ray Hamill — The final week of the regular season produced plenty of drama, some thrilling moments, and more of what we’ve been conditioned to expect all season.
Here then are five takeaways from the weekend in prep football …
1 — Loggers poised for memorable playoff run
The Eureka Loggers came into the season with high expectations, and they have more than lived up to the billing, taking care of business in stylish fashion all year.
They completed a dominating 10-0 regular season, their second straight, which is a special achievement and places this team in the conversation of the greatest ever to represent the school.
But the legacy of this year’s team has not yet been cemented, and what the Loggers do over the next few weeks will determine ultimately how we remember them.
One of the great things about this team is how the players go about their business.
The roster is not just exceptionally talented and deep, but the players are also experienced and professional in how they approach things.
They will be tested more in the coming weeks, and any one bad day at the gridiron office will end things quickly, and inevitably in disappointing fashion.
Still, this is a team that looks ready for the postseason and poised for a memorable playoff run.
2 — Del Norte also poised for memorable playoff run
The Del Norte Warriors certainly answered the call down the stretch of the regular season.
After being written off by many in the wake of a blowout loss at Fortuna last month, we rightfully questioned just how good really was this impressive-looking Del Norte team?
Well, they answered that question in emphatic fashion with hard-fought league victories over Fortuna and St. Bernard’s, clinching second in the Big 4 behind Eureka.
And that strong finish, coupled with Kennedy High’s surprise loss to Salesian over the weekend, saw the Warriors make a late surge in the Division-IV rankings and earn the No. 2 seed.
That’s huge for a couple of reasons.
First, it gives them a bye this coming weekend, and second, it gives them a potential two home games leading up to a possible NCS championship showdown.
Crescent City is traditionally a difficult place for any team to play, as the Huskies found out three weeks ago, and especially it you’re traveling all the way up from the Bay Area.
On top of that, the Warriors are playing with plenty of confidence and momentum right now, and will be a tough out for anyone in the NCS.
3 — Ferndale, Fortuna could be dangerous, but need consistency
Both the Huskies and Wildcats will open their playoff campaign this weekend, with Fortuna hosting El Molino on Friday night, and Ferndale traveling to Berean Christian on Saturday afternoon.
And if either team can put together a consistent run of performances, both could be a handful in their respective brackets.
The Huskies have lost three straight in the Big 4, but could easily have won two of them and gave a high-flying Eureka team all it could handle for the opening two quarters, which is more than most teams can say.
Injuries have not helped down the stretch of the season, nor are they solely to blame for the three straight losses either.
Two second-quarter turnovers deep in Eureka territory on Friday, including a fumble on the goal line, cost them any chance of an upset, while a third at midfield on the opening drive of the third quarter essentially ended the game.
The Huskies are known for playing clean, relatively mistake-free football under head coach Mike Benbow and his experienced staff, and will need to do that in November to have any chance of retaining their NCS crown.
Ferndale, meanwhile, has also been plagued by injuries this season, and that’s always more problematic on a smaller squad.
Still, there is a genuine small-town football feel about this year’s Wildcats, who have shown they can knock off deeper teams with a hard-nosed, hard-hitting approach.
If that Ferndale team shows up on Saturday, St. Helena will have its hands full.
4 — Tigers deserve home playoff game
The Arcata Tigers clinched the Little 4 title outright with a comfortable if not dominating win over visiting Ferndale on Friday night, earning them a first-round home game in the NCS playoffs.
The playoff game was originally scheduled for Saturday night, was brought forward 24 hours because of a clash with Humboldt State’s game at the Redwood Bowl.
The Tigers finally showed up on offense against the Wildcats, ending a long streak of having to rely on their defense to win games, and breaking the 30-point barrier for the first time all season.
The Tigers have enjoyed some stellar defense all year, and if the offense can now match that, they’ll be a handful for any Division-V team in the bracket.
And a home game is a deserved reward for an Arcata team that has rallied hard this year, overcoming a lot of early-season injuries and an 0-3 start, on the way to winning six of its final seven games.
5 — The future for McKinleyville is definitely brighter
The McKinleyville Panthers are the only local team not to make the playoffs, but is a team that took some notable steps in the right direction this season nonetheless.
For a program that was unable to even field a team for much of last year and featured a group of players that head coach Keoki Burbank said quit on themselves, this year was a very different story.
The Panthers finished with just two wins, but played most of their league opponents close, with games going down to the final possession or two.
In other words, there was no quit in this year’s team.
With a relatively young roster, this is also a team that should learn from their experiences in 2018 and be better a year from now because of it.