The Fortuna Huskies are the 2018 North Coast Section Division-I boys champions after a dramatic finish against an unlikely new rival on Saturday night.
Playing at Husky Field, the home team had to rally twice against a Del Norte Warriors team making its first-ever appearance in an NCS championship game, and one few people expected to be here at the start of the season.
The Huskies weren’t expected to be here either. The recent Humboldt-Del Norte League powerhouse returned just four players this season, but came together quicker than expected in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
And on Saturday night, they did enough to secure a 3-2 overtime win over the Warriors, claiming their second NCS championship in three years.
Despite dominating early and coming close to taking the lead on numerous occasions, the Huskies found themselves trailing by a goal at halftime.
Jackson Fairbanks tied things up in the second half, but the Huskies found themselves trailing again with seven minutes to go, before Aaron Mignon scored a second tying goal with just five minutes remaining in regulation.
The two teams remained tied through the opening period of overtime, before senior Luis Atilano closed out his high school career in style by netting the winner in the second overtime.
“I’m proud of them,” Fortuna head coach Daniel Holmes said. “To go down 1-0, and then to be down 2-1 with seven minutes left, they didn’t give up. It really showed a lot of heart and you can’t coach that.”
Seniors step up
The Huskies could have led by three or four goals before halftime, with Mignon particularly dangerous up front and coming close to a hat trick within a few minutes, sending two headers just wide of the target and having another goal-bound shot deflected in the goal mouth.
All four seniors — Fairbanks, Mignon, Atilano and Kevin Noel — played a big part in the win and indeed throughout the season.
And all three goals came from the seniors, none as dramatic as Atilano’s.
“It was a great ending for him, being a senior,” Holmes said. “He was on cloud nine.”
The coach also paid tribute to the No. 5 seed Warriors, who knocked off No. 1 seed International in the semifinal and were playing their second straight overtime game against a higher seed.
“I thought Del Norte represented our league top notch,” Holmes said. “It was an exciting match.”
The coach made some switches at halftime in an effort to open up some space for his offense, moving Fernando Atilano deeper and Antonio Garcinuno out wide, and it appeared to work.
“We were trying to find some width,” Holmes said.
The championship appearance was the third in four years for the Huskies, who have been in the final four in NCS play for four straight years.