By Ray Hamill — It was a wild weekend for the local football teams still playing, not to mention their coaches, parents and fans.
It was also a great weekend for Fortuna and Eureka, and not just because of what they achieved on the field, but equally for what it meant for each program.
Del Norte, meanwhile, bowed out at the semifinal stage of the North Coast Section playoffs yet again, but the Warriors had a big year and have every reason to hold their heads high.
Here then are five takeaways from the weekend in prep football …
1 — Never underestimate the Fortuna Huskies
I’m not suggesting the Del Norte Warriors underestimated the Fortuna Huskies this past weekend. They know them about as well as anyone.
But the North Coast Section seeding committee certainly did,
Del Norte head coach Lewis Nova suggested last week that the Huskies were better than the No. 6 seed they were handed in the Division-IV bracket, and on Friday night the showed why.
With a much improved defensive performance from the last time these two teams met late in the regular season, the Huskies pulled out a 30-6 win in a game that was a lot closer than the final score would suggest.
Few teams are as composed as the Huskies when it comes to the playoffs, and few are ever as well prepared.
Head coach Mike Benbow and his staff have built one of the most consistent programs in the NCS, and one of the most successful in Division IV.
Friday’s win was the ninth straight in the playoffs for the Huskies, who will now compete for a second straight NCS crown and are the lowest seed to reach the championship game in any of the seven divisions.
They have also knocked off higher seeds on the road in back-to-back weeks, and will have to do so again at No. 1 Moreau Catholic on Saturday night.
That, however, won’t bother the Huskies, whose 5-5 regular season record was more than a little deceptive considering who the losses came against and how close they were to a 2-1 league record instead of an 0-3 mark.
They also caused Eureka more problems than any other local team and should have been leading that game at halftime but for a couple of turnovers.
Injuries down the stretch of the regular season didn’t help matters, but the Huskies are completely healthy again and as dangerous as ever.
Particularly with a much-improved defense right now.
The defending 5-A state champions won’t lack experience or confidence heading into the weekend showdown.
And once again, win or lose, they’ll be as well prepared as any team.
That much you can be certain of.
2 — Impressive year for Del Norte
And the award for the most improved local team in 2018 goes to … the Del Norte Warriors (with Hoopa Valley second).
The Warriors grew in stature as the season went on, rarely putting a foot wrong and remaining unbeaten in Crescent City until this past weekend’s playoff game.
Cruelly, it was the seventh time the Warriors have lost at the semifinal stage of the NCS playoffs in seven appearances, including their second straight to Fortuna.
But it was still a memorable campaign for Del Norte, which clinched the No. 2 seed in Division IV with a big win at St. Bernard’s on the final weekend of the regular season.
Their only three losses of the year came against Fortuna (twice) and Eureka, each of whom are still playing.
3 — Eureka defense is exceptional
You probably already knew, this but in case you didn’t they emphatically reminded us of it on Saturday night.
It’s not so much that they held a previously unbeaten Las Lomas team with several big-play specialists scoreless and to just three first downs all night (the conditions played a big part in that), but it was how they did it.
The conditions were equally problematic for either team, and even considering the Eureka players are more used to these type of elements, they didn’t put a foot wrong all night.
They executed their game plan to perfection, tackled flawlessly, and never looked in danger of giving up a score, despite five first-half fumbles on offense, all recovered by the visitors.
It was an exceptional performance by any standards, with Humboldt Sports Athlete of the Week Isaak Gutierrez leading the way.
4 — Hosting a NorCal game yet again
Humboldt County will host a CIF regional game for the third time in four years this weekend.
Which is great for football in the area, not just for the players involved, but for the boost it gives the entire Humboldt-Del Norte League.
It’s also great for fans here, who get to enjoy some top quality teams in action.
We’ve said all along that the Big 4 this year was a very talented group of teams, and they showed that in the playoffs, with several dominating displays and some impressive runs, including a pair of teams still playing.
5 — Another state title for the H-DNL?
Even more impressively, the H-DNL is inching toward a possible third state championship in four years.
St. Bernard’s won one in 2015, followed by Fortuna a year ago, and now Eureka is two wins away from achieving the same feat, in what would be a first-ever state title for the school in football.
It took a little luck with Sunday’s coin toss, but there’s no denying the Loggers deserve to be where they are.
This is a deep, talented and extremely talented team, and a group of players who are now 23-1 dating back to the beginning of last season, including an unbeaten 12-0 run this season.
They have answered every call this season.