By Ray Hamill — The Eureka Loggers showed plenty of fighting spirit in Friday night’s CIF NorCal Regional showdown at McKinleyville High. They just couldn’t stop Menlo-Atherton’s Troy Franklin.
For the second straight week, the sophomore sensation scored a spectacular touchdown late in the game to lead his team to victory, this time running to the end zone from 70 yards out with eight minutes remaining.
The score came one play after the Loggers had completed a second-half comeback to tie the game at 20-20, and the Bears made Franklin’s big run count, holding on for a 27-20 win to advance to next week’s 3-AA state bowl game.
It was Franklin’s third touchdown of the night, and the second time he answered a Loggers score with one of his own on the very next play, having earlier scored on a 69-yard reception one play after Eureka had taken a first-quarter lead.
Franklin is the state’s top-rated sophomore prospect, and it showed.
“No. 11 for them was a big difference maker,” Eureka head coach Jason White said.
End of the line
The loss was the first on the year for Eureka, which closed out a memorable campaign with a record of 12-1, one that included a second consecutive undefeated regular season.
The senior class will go down as one of the strongest ever to play football for the school.
“I’m delighted with the group of athletes we have,” White said. “They’ve all grown as people, and that’s really our job as coaches more than wins and losses.”
The Loggers had plenty of wins as well, and came into the game riding the momentum of a dominating season that saw only one team come within 20 points of them.
It was obvious from early in Friday’s game, however, that the Bears were going to give them their biggest challenge of the season.
In a matchup of big, physical heavyweights, the Bears showed their big-play capability on their opening possession of the game, but stalled when Eureka senior linebacker Tyce Mullins came up with a big sack on fourth-and-17.
The Loggers then drove 56 yards on eight plays and scored on a Robert Weir run up the middle from six yards out to open up a 7-0 lead.
Weir had a big night grinding out tough yards and kept several drives alive, finishing with 150 yards on the ground.
Offensively, however, the Loggers stalled somewhat themselves after the opening score, with a failed fake punt attempt at midfield and a fumble deep in their own territory each proving costly as the Bears took a 20-7 advantage into halftime.
Mullins came up with several inspirational plays in his final game for Eureka, including blocking a PAT attempt.
The Loggers began the second half the better of the two teams, with Mullins again coming up big and recovering a fumble deep in Bears territory.
Eureka made it count three plays later when Isley Tulmau found the end zone from nine yards out on a short reception to pull his team within seven.
The Eureka defense stepped up again on the ensuing drive, forcing a punt, and Eureka then marched 73 yards on 16 plays, tying the game on a six-yard Cruz Montana run, a drive that included a pair of fourth-down conversions.
“I’m so proud of my players,” White said. “They played hard. A lot of teams playing against a talented team like Menlo, would have folded if they were down like that, but we fought back.”
With Franklin responding immediately after the tying score, however, the Loggers quickly found themselves trailing again, and were unable to find the end zone again despite moving the ball effectively late, with Weir and Josiah Graham coming up with some big gains in the final few minutes.