By Ray Hamill — Experience isn’t the only thing that has prepared the Fortuna Huskies for this moment.
So too has their schedule.
The Huskies will travel to play Moreau Catholic in the North Coast Section Division-IV championship game at Dublin HS on Saturday night, and thanks in part to as tough a schedule as any Division-IV team has played, there shouldn’t be too much that will surprise them.
Most of the Fortuna players have won nine consecutive playoff games together dating back to last season, when they won the NCS and 5-A state crowns, and in part because of that state championship, they were forced to play against better teams this year, because many schools didn’t want to play them.
And that much tougher schedule against a wide variety of opponents has helped prepare them for this year’s NCS challenge.
“It’s not only our playoff experience that will help us, it’s our schedule,” Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow said. “We’ve played some fantastic teams. We’ve seen speed, we’ve seen size, we know what to expect. The bottom line is will we perform?”
A perfect record
The top-seeded Mariners come into the game with a record of 12-0, including five straight shutouts to close out the regular season.
Four of their five shutouts, however, came against teams ranked No. 837 or lower in MaxPreps’ California rankings, while only one of Fortuna’s opponents (Ferndale) was ranked that low (870th).
Fortuna has also played some of the top teams teams in the state, including three ranked in the top 121, Cardinal Newman (36th), Eureka (69th) and Tracy (121st), while the best team the Mariners has played all year was San Marin (349th), whom they beat twice.
Still, Moreau (207th) will present a sizable challenge for the Huskies, who are ranked 260th, and as Benbow pointed out, it will all come down to who performs better on the day.
Fortuna players appear ready
According to their head coach, the Huskies have been having fun at practice this week, and are happy to be just still playing.
“I think our guys are very appreciative of the still being around playing football,” Benbow said. “We’ve been having a lot of fun with it.”
With three straight playoff wins under their collective belts in 2018, the Huskies also have plenty of momentum right now.
“We feel really good about where we’re at,” Benbow said. “Coming off that big week we had at Del Norte, our guys were pretty excited and fired up, and they’ve definitely put in the work to prepare for Saturday.”
The Huskies defense has stepped up the level of its game since the playoffs began, and they’ll need more of that against a Moreau Catholic team that features a powerful running attack, led by junior Fresh Ison who is averaging 175.5 yards rushing a game this season, including a massive 16.4 yards a carry.
For the season he has 1,931 yards and 28 touchdowns.
“That young man is really special,” Benbow said of Ison.
Sure tackling, however, has been one of the main reasons the Huskies’ defense has been able to step up over the past month.
“The main thing, I’ve said it before, is we have to tackle in space,” Benbow said. “And in the last four weeks we’ve been doing a really good job of tackling, and a really good job of slowing down opponents.”
Saturday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast live on 95.1 and 106.7 FM, with the pre-game show getting under way at 6:40 p.m.
The game can also be streamed live online through The High School Sports Network, for subscribers.