By Ray Hamill — It’s been a breakthrough season for Hoopa Valley football, and the Warriors are hoping the party doesn’t end quite yet.
On Saturday evening, the Warriors play their first North Coast Section playoff game in seven years, having just posted their first winning campaign in seven years.
Interestingly, the Warriors go into NCS play riding a four-game postseason winning streak, and have not lost in Section play going all the way back to 2009, having won back-to-back championships in 2010 and 2011.
This season also saw the Warriors end another unenviable streak, defeating long-time nemesis Ferndale for the first time in 23 years (42 straight games), and eventually sweeping the season series from the Wildcats.
They could potentially end up playing Ferndale a third time if the two teams can each navigate the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Warriors also came within a win of their first league title in decades, having lived in the shadows of Little 4 heavyweights St. Bernard’s and Ferndale for much of the past generation.
The Warriors closed out league play at 4-2, finishing second to Arcata, the only team to get the better of them in the Little 4.
At 6-4 on the season, the Warriors have known they were headed back to the playoffs for a couple of weeks now, achieving one of the goals new head coach William Simms and his staff set for the team at the outset of the season.
Simms and his staff have done a commendable job turning around the fortunes of a struggling program.
They have a talented roster, more talented than Hoopa has had in some time, but they have put these players in a position to win, and, more importantly, have instilled a belief in them.
Hoopa is also one of the most balanced teams in the area, with a solid, physical line and a lot of options and versatility at the skilled positions for a small school program.
Standing in the way this weekend is a Saints team that was also 6-4 in the regular season, finishing 4-3 in the North Central League I and in the midst of a chasing pack behind high-flying champions Kelseyville, the top seed in the Division-V playoff bracket.
As the higher seed, the No. 7 Saints will host Saturday’s game against the No. 10 Warriors in St. Helena (west of Santa Rosa) at 7 p.m.
Judging by records, seedings and season rankings, there should be little between these two teams in a competitive matchup.
Their one common opponent this season was Arcata, which the Saints defeated 26-20 on the opening weekend.