Joey Pontes scored four touchdowns on Saturday night, as the Fortuna Huskies defeated the Del Norte Warriors 30-6 in Crescent City to move on to next week’s North Coast Section Division-IV championship game.
The win was the ninth straight in the playoffs for the Huskies, who will now get a chance to defend their NCS crown despite being the No. 6 seed coming into the postseason.
Fortuna has now won back-to-back playoff games on the road against higher seeds.
Pontes played like a senior who might be experiencing his last high school game, and was a game-changer in sloppy conditions, scoring all four Fortuna TDs.
He ran in for two, scored one on a reception from quarterback Zac Claus, and another on a 55-yard interception return to seal the win late in the fourth quarter.
In truth, this game was a lot closer than the final score would suggest, with the Huskies managing just 236 yards of offense and only leading 16-6 until the final few minutes.
The Huskies’ experience, however, came through in the end, as they handed the Warriors a seventh NCS semifinal defeat in seven appearances.
So too did their defense, which is playing as well as at any stage of the season, and a unit that is vastly improved from the two previous games against Del Norte this year, which were split.
“Having everyone healthy is one thing,” Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow said when asked why his defense is playing better. “And as you get deeper into the playoffs, you kind of start to form an identity, and that’s what our defense is.”
The head coach also had high praise for his scout team, a group that clearly had the Huskies prepared for a tough trip to Crescent City this time around.
“I want to give kudos to our scout team.,” Benbow said. “Our scout team has been amazing in the playoffs. Our younger guys have done a fantastic job of preparing our older guys.”
Benbow described them as the best scout team in the Section.
“Every week they prepare our starters for every game,” he said. “They get smacked around and pushed around, but they keep doing it. It’s not easy going up every day against Sheaden Kadle, but they keep challenging our older kids, and that makes a difference.”
Just enough offense
Offensively, the Huskies did just enough in the tough conditions, with Claus completing 12-of-16 passes for 145 yards, two TDs and one interception.
Pontes pulled in five receptions for 84 yards, while rushing for 50 more on 15 carries.
After each team exchanged turnovers on the opening two possessions of the game, the Huskies took advantage of their takeaway and marched 33 yards on five plays to take the lead on a 12-yard Pontes run.
A safety made it 9-0, before the visitors stretched their lead to 16-0 just before halftime on three-yard scoring pass from Claus to Pontes.
O.J. Calleja ran in from a yard out in the third quarter for Del Norte to make it 16-6, before Pontes and Fortuna sealed the win with two late scores within 30 seconds of each other.
“Offensively we did what we had to do,” Benbow said.
Luis Atilano remained hot with his kicking duties, nailing all four PATs for Fortuna.
Travis Lourenzo added 27 yards rushing on five carries for Fortuna, while Bryce Sancho had three receptions for 38 yards and Branson Gans two for 23.
The Huskies will play No. 1 seed Moreau Catholic next Saturday for the NCS championship at Dublin HS.
Moreau Catholic beat No. 4 San Marin 56-47 in the other semifinal.