By Ray Hamill — The North Coast Section football playoffs kicked off over the weekend, with five local teams involved, including three who got to play at home.
Arcata, Hoopa and Ferndale all fell at the first hurdle, while both Fortuna and St. Bernard’s rolled to impressive wins.
Here then are five takeaways from the weekend in prep football …
1 — Big 4 makes a statement
There were only two of the Big 4 teams in action on opening weekend, but between them those two put up enough points for all four.
As No. 2 seeds in their respective postseason brackets, both Eureka and Del Norte enjoyed a bye, while Fortuna blew out El Molino 55-14 on Friday night, and St Bernard’s rolled to a 61-28 win over Albany on Saturday afternoon.
It was a quite a statement weekend for the Big 4, which now has three of the final eight teams in the Division-IV bracket.
The league continues to be a force within the section, and we could yet see as many as three of these teams playing in an NCS championship game in a couple of weeks.
All four squads are now mostly healthy and riding a wave of momentum and confidence, and going forward all four will be tough outs for anyone.
There’s plenty of talent in the Big 4 right now, but the coaching staffs continue to do a magnificent job in keeping these programs relevant at this time of the year.
2 — Eureka, Del Norte now know their opponents
After enjoying a weekend off to rest up and get healthy if necessary, both Eureka and Del Norte now know who they’ll each be playing when they kick off the postseason this week.
In Division III, No. 2 seed Eureka will host No. 7 De Anza on Friday night at 7 p.m.
The Dons, out of Richmond, are 6-5 on the season and went 4-2 in the Tri-County-Stone League, finishing second to Pinole Valley.
De Anza beat Tennyson 45-22 at home in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Loggers come into the clash at 10-0 this year, having just completed their second consecutive undefeated regular season.
Del Norte meanwhile, will play Justin-Siena in Crescent City on Friday night.
The No. 2 seed in Division IV is 8-2 on the year, solidifying their seeding with a big win at St. Bernard’s on the final week of the regular season.
Justin-Siena is 5-6 on the year, including a 1-5 record in the Vine Valley League.
The Napa school is seeded No. 10 and advanced to the second round with a 55-28 win at Piedmont.
A victory for Del Norte could set up a third matchup this season against Fortuna in the semifinals.
3 — Little 4 teams bow out
All three of the Little 4 teams to make the playoffs fell at the first hurdle, with Arcata losing at home to Cloverdale, and Ferndale and Hoopa Valley falling on the road at Berean Christian and St. Helena, respectively.
The losses end an exciting season for the league, arguably the most exciting race in a long, long time, with all three of these teams contending for the title.
Arcata eventually won out, with Hoopa and Ferndale both in contention until the final week.
All three epitomized small school football at its finest this year, with each overcoming a ton of injuries with a next-man-up mentality, and teammates stepping up to fill the holes.
It was disappointing none of them could post a win in the NCS, even if all three were the lower seeds in their matchups.
But that doesn’t take from what was a fun ride over the six weeks of league play.
4 — St. Bernard’s healthy and on a roll
The Crusaders had the perfect game to begin the playoffs, storming out of the gates and quickly taking control, which allowed a beat-up starting lineup to rest for the second half, and gave the younger players some valuable playoff experience.
The Crusaders are about as healthy as they have been in several weeks, and now have momentum.
They’ll have to play on the road from here on, traveling to No. 4 seed San Marin on Saturday afternoon.
The Mustangs are 7-3 on the season, going 5-2 in the Marin County League while finishing second to Marin Catholic.
They had a bye in the opening round.
The winner of this game will likely have to travel to No. 1 seed Moreau Catholic in the semifinals.
5 — Fortuna getting healthy and on a roll
The Huskies too had the perfect opening playoff game on Friday night.
Just like the Crusaders, they rolled to a huge first-half lead and were able to rest their starters for the entire second half, while also giving their younger players some playoff experience.
The defending 5-A state champion Huskies won’t lack confidence or experience at this stage of the season, and will be a handful for anyone going forward.
On Saturday, they play at No. 3 seed Kennedy in Richmond.
The Eagles are 8-2, including a 3-2 mark in the Tri-County Rock League, where they suffered a surprising loss to Salesian on the final weekend.