By Ray Hamill — The Hoopa Valley Warriors will need to play hard-nosed physical football at St. Helena on Saturday, if they want to advance in the North Coast Section Division-V playoffs.
In other words, they have to play the sort of football they’ve been associated with this year.
“We have to play Warrior football,” Hoopa head coach William Simms said. “We have to play physical, in-your-face type football, like we’ve been doing all season.”
The No. 10 Warriors (6-4) are making their first playoff appearance since 2011, when they won a second straight NCS championship, and have not lost in the postseason since 2009.
This year was a breakthrough campaign for Hoopa, which also posted its first winning season since 2011.
The Warriors are still battling several injuries heading into the playoffs, with four major contributors all sidelined, including three linebackers, Sonny Jarnaghan, Tristen Campbell and Elisha Moon, as well as influential center David Ruiz.
And Simms and his coaching staff will be looking for the next players to step up.
“We have some depth, but those linebackers are some pretty key injuries,” the head coach said. “But we’re going to be okay. We’ll switch some things around.”
No. 7 St. Helena, meanwhile, comes into the game at 6-4, including a 4-3 mark in the competitive North Central League-I.
The Saints, who like to run the ball, closed out the regular season with two straight wins, putting up a combined 89 points against Cloverdale and Lower Lake, after dropping back-to-back games the previous two weeks.
And Simms is expecting a battle along the lines.
“They’re very physical,” he said.
The Warriors will present plenty of problems themselves for the home team, most notably with their versatility.
Hoopa can pound the ball behind powerful fullback Kimit Peters, or can beat you with a variety of skilled player options, with quarterback John Smith growing into the position more and more.
Smith, who won the starting spot midway through the season, has a pair of standout receivers in Jasper Hostler and Carlos Aguilar, the latter of whom was described by his coach earlier this year as the best wide receiver in the county.
Aguilar has done little to undermine that assessment.
“I think we’re a football smart team,” the head coach said. “We’re not stuck with one concept. We can adapt when we have to.”
The Warriors will travel five and half hours down to St. Helena (west of Santa Rosa) on Friday, in order to be fresh for Saturday evening’s game.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.