By Ray Hamill — The Fortuna Huskies are one of three local teams among the top seeds in the North Coast Section Division-IV bracket, and will open the playoffs at home to El Molino on Friday night.
Fortuna comes into the game at 5-5 on the year after a tough schedule, including a surprising 0-3 run in the Big 4.
Two of those three losses could easily have gone the other way, while last week they fell to a very strong Eureka team that is expected to challenge for the D-III NCS championship.
What was most surprising about that 0-3 league campaign, however, was the amount of turnovers the Huskies committed, something you don’t associate with a Mike Benbow coached team.
“Uncharacteristic,” is how Benbow described it.
And the long-time coach knows his team will have to clean up that problem if they are to retain the NCS title they won on the way to a 5-A state championship a year ago.
“We just need to be physical up front, we need to tackle in space, and not turn the ball over,” Benbow said.
The Huskies are seeded sixth in Division-IV, with El Molino 11th.
Also from the Big 4, No. 2 Del Norte has an opening round bye, while No. 5 St. Bernard’s opens at home to No. 12 Albany on Saturday.
Uncharacteristic turnovers haven’t been the only concern for Fortuna down the stretch of the season, with injuries mounting in recent weeks.
The good news is that two key starters will return this week — receiver/linebacker Branson Gans and lineman/linebacker Micah Pronovost — giving the home team a timely boost.
Running backs Levi Nyberg and Jason Besasceney, however, are both sidelined.
“That’s high school football,” Benbow said, “It’s next man up, and that’s what we have to do.”
El Molino comes into the game with a 3-6 record, including a forfeit win.
The Lions opened the season at St. Bernard’s, in a comfortable 40-14 win for the Crusaders, and won’t be expected to knock off the defending state champions at Husky Field.
Benbow and his players, however, will be taking nothing for granted.
Despite the injuries to their two running backs, the Huskies have plenty of depth at the skill positions, and a very experienced quarterback in senior Zac Claus.
Claus has been impressive this year, racking up 1,569 yards passing and 17 touchdowns to just five interceptions.
He also is one of numerous running threats out of the backfield, with 273 yards and nine TDs on the ground.
Joey Pontes also has been instrumental in a potent Huskies offense that has put up a lot of points over the second half of the season.
Pontes leads the way with 645 yards on the ground and 309 yards receiving, both team highs, to go with 11 touchdowns.
Adam Madeiros is also enjoying a standout senior season with 237 yards rushing and 252 through the air.
Friday night’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast live on Mix 95.1 FM and The Edge 106.7 FM, with the pre-game show getting under way at 6:40 p.m.