By Ray Hamill — We’ve been saying all season long how this group of Eureka players is special. Now it’s time for them to go out and show it on the biggest stage of all.
On Friday night at McKinleyville High School, the Loggers will play in their first CIF Regional playoff game against Menlo-Atherton, with a place in a state bowl game on the line, and a slice of impressive history up for grabs.
And for a team that is 12-0 this year, and a group of players that are 23-1 dating back to the start of last season, this is what they’ve been building toward all season, and for many of them it’s what they’ve been building toward for their entire careers.
They didn’t get a chance to give Eureka High a fourth North Coast Section title, but they do have the opportunity to give the school a first state championship.
And it all begins this Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
Athletic and big
Standing in the Loggers’ way is an impressive Menlo-Atherton team that is 12-2 on the year and fresh off a Central Coast Section title.
“They have athletes, and they have some big guys,” Eureka junior lineman Miles Meynell said. “Obviously, they’re good. Any team at this point is good.”
The Bears feature a number of top prospects, but that’s nothing new for a Loggers defense that has dominated quality opponents all season and handled a number of future D-I college players.
“At first glance, you see all the star players they have and all that, but it really hasn’t affected us much,” Eureka senior lineman John Foster said. “We know if we do our stuff we’re going to come out with a win.”
Senior lineman Isaak Gutierrez echoed the sentiment.
“I expect them to come out hard. They’re big and they’ve got some talent,” he said. “We’ve just got to work hard, play hard.”
Answering the call
The Loggers got here by defeating a previously unbeaten Las Lomas team in wet muddy conditions at Albee Stadium last Saturday night, and then winning a coin flip against Cardinal Newman on Sunday morning to advance to the state games.
So far this season, the Loggers have answered every call on the field, with a balanced and extremely deep offense, orchestrated to near perfection by quarterback Cruz Montana, and backed by a dominating defense.
Only one team all year (Lincoln) has come within 20 points of the Loggers.
“We’ve got to keep playing defense like we have all season, and we’ve got to make sure (the Bears) don’t get too comfortable, and make sure their quarterback doesn’t get too comfortable,” Eureka head coach Jason White said. “And we’ve just got to execute (on offense) like we have been.”
If there is one area the Eureka players need to clean up from a week ago, it’s the fumbles, which ended five of six drives during the first half against Las Lomas.
Much of that, however, can be put down to the terrible conditions.
‘Everyone’s focused. We all know the goal’
As always it seems, the Loggers have had a productive week of practice, and certainly a busy one.
After only finding out for sure that they were moving on early Sunday, the players have had just four days to prepare for the Bears.
But it’s been a productive four days.
“We don’t have a lot of bad practices,” White said. “That’s pretty evident in the way we play.”
The players too feel they’re ready for the challenge.
“Everyone’s focused. We all know the goal,” Foster said.
Gutierrez, who turned in an inspired performance along the line last week, said the players are looking forward to the opportunity.
“It’s a new challenge,” he said. “We’re just excited to prove ourselves.”
One of the biggest challenges facing the Loggers will be the size and physicality of the Bears, the deepest and biggest squad Eureka has faced all season.
The Loggers, however, counter that with some size of their own.
“Their size is not a terrible mismatch for us,” White said. “We’re big too.”
Plenty of depth
The Loggers are also deep, and rotate several players along the defensive line without losing any production.
In addition, they have a plethora of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, with 16 different players accounting for 34 takeaways this season.
In short, they have a lot of playmakers and make it difficult for opposing teams to focus in on any one player, on either side of the ball.
And to win this week’s big game and advance to the state championship, the Loggers will be looking to just keep doing what they’ve been doing all year.
“I think we have to play the Loggers brand of football,” Meynell said. “We have to play hard, execute, and we have to play our football.”
In other words?
“It’s just another game,” White said. “Another opponent.”