By Ray Hamill — The 2018 local football season officially came to an end on Saturday night, a little later than expected in some ways, yet earlier than hoped for in others.
It was certainly an entertaining season, albeit with a few too many blowouts along the way, and it was without doubt exciting to the end.
The very end.
And as always there were several talking points, as well as some disappointments, plenty of success, and most of all an abundance of memories founded on thrills, excitement and moments of awe.
Here then are some takeaways from the 2018 season that was …
Team of the Year
You could obviously make a very strong argument for the North Coast Section champion Huskies, but no team provided more moments of sheer awe and magic than Eureka in 2018.
Even in Friday night’s finale, when Isley Tulmau’s TD catch epitomized the fighting spirit of this team.
They were superbly prepared for every game, with a veteran, professional approach, not to mention deep and talented.
But most of all, they were just plain fun to watch.
Worst Team of the Year
The North Coast Section
Talk about taking the spoiler role to a whole new level. Shame on them for taking the games away, and I’m still disappointed I never got to see Eureka play Cardinal Newman.
Or Fortuna defend its state title.
Game of the Year
Fortuna vs. St. Bernard’s
These two don’t disappoint when they meet, or at least they haven’t recently, with the Crusaders edging out a 56-54 win in a thrilling overtime clash in October.
It was the second straight thriller between the two, who met in the playoffs a year ago, with Fortuna winning that one.
When the 2019 schedule comes out, the first game many local fans will circle is the Big 4 showdown between these two.
Escape Artist of the Year
The Eureka quarterback was one of the most consistent at his position all season, and a huge driving force behind his team’s success.
He was accurate, smart, prepared and displayed a knack for making big plays, but as much as anything he was really difficult to take down.
Montana kept countless plays alive this season evading what seemed like certain tackles with his scrambling ability, often finding a receiver on a thrilling completion to cap the play.
Like his team, Montana was fun to watch in 2018.
Like his Eureka counterpart, the Fortuna quarterback rarely put a foot wrong in 2018.
The most experienced signal caller on the North Coast, Claus walks away with a state championship and a pair of NCS crowns under his belt, having never lost a playoff game as a starter with a record of 10-0.
His steady, prepared approach to the game epitomizes the Huskies under Mike Benbow.
He will be remembered as one of the greatest ever to play QB for the Huskies.
McKinleyville may have struggled in terms of wins and losses this season, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort from Carr.
The junior linebacker/running back has a nose for the ball like few others and was an inspirational leader all year, while finishing fourth in the entire NCS in tackles during the regular season with 126, the only junior to feature in the top seven.
Player of the Year — Tyce Mullins
A deep field of worthy candidates for this honor, but no one stood out quite as much as Mullins.
Both a phenomenal talent at middle linebacker and an inspirational leader in all facets of the game, Mullins had a fumble recovery on defense, a blocked PAT on special teams, and made his presence felt at tight end, all in Friday’s season finale alone.
Mullins will be missed more than any player in this supremely talented senior class.
Quite simply, he was the best player on the best team in 2018.
Cruz Montana, Zac Claus, Sheaden Kadle, Ethan Price, Miles Meynell, Isaak Gutierrez, Will Omey, Connor Chase, Sebastian Puente
The St. Bernard’s junior wasn’t even expected to start at QB for the Crusaders in the summer, before an injury to Bode Joyner handed him the opportunity.
In head coach Matt Tomlin’s words, Omey earned the starting job, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
Omey led the entire NCS in total offensive yards during the regular season, the only player to surpass the 3,000-yard mark (3,084).
Best Story No One Paid Attention To
The South Fork Cubs
Quietly, the South Fork Cubs have built a pretty competitive program with limited resources and and are coming off a very impressive campaign in 2018.
They finished the year with just 12 players, but made it all the way to the inaugural NCS eight-player championship game, winning a second straight league crown along the way.
The Cubs were led by a pair of dynamic seniors, Cody Wyatt and CJ Van Meter.
Most Improved Team
The Del Norte Warriors (With an Honorable Mention For Hoopa Valley)
The Del Norte Warriors went from two wins on the field a year ago to nine this year, the biggest turnaround for any of the local teams.
The Hoopa Valley Warriors deserve an honorable mention here too, going from 1-9 to 6-5 and returning to the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
Most Exciting Player To Look For In 2019
Hoopa Valley’s Carlos Aguilar makes more spectacular catches at receiver than just about anyone else in the area, and should be fun to watch again in 2019.
Reasons for optimism
Arcata — Dazzling Running Backs
In 2019, the Tigers should return the best one-two running back combo in the Little 4 — junior Kien Mazzotti and sophomore Everett Halikas, two players capable of taking it to the house almost every time they touch the ball.
Not to mention junior quarterback Matt Robinson, who was one of the most improved at his position in the H-DNL this year.
Del Norte — A Physical Line
The Warriors will lose some big-time playmakers to graduation, but should return the core of a line that re-established the program’s identity as a physical team in 2018, and one that should continue to set the tone for Del Norte football in 2019.
Eureka — A Small But Very Talented Junior Class
This season’s success wasn’t built entirely on that wonderful senior class, and the Loggers feature a handful of very talented juniors that will continue to cause problems for the rest of the Big 4 a year from now.
Miles Meynell is arguably already the best lineman in the area, while Trevor Bell could be the best quarterback the rest of the NCS has not yet heard about, not to mention playmakers like Lamarie Dunn, sophomore Chase Steubing, and a host of others.
Ferndale — Gomes, Mustangs
Landon Gomes is probably the best junior athlete on the North Coast right now, and a complete football player. He should be even better in 2019 and a fantastic weapon for the Cats to continue to build around.
The AAA Ferndale Mustangs also give the Cats plenty of hope for the future with their Six Rivers Youth Football championship this fall.
Fortuna — The Coaching Staff
Under Mike Benbow and his staff, the Huskies have the most consistent and most professional high school program in the area, quite probably in any sport.
They do graduate a key group of experienced seniors this year, but the Huskies are the model of consistency with 12 straight playoff appearances. Don’t expect that to change.
Hoopa Valley — A New Identity
The Warriors enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2018 with a new coaching staff establishing a new identity for Hoopa Valley football while challenging for a league title.
With a nice balance of skilled players and linemen due back next season, the Warriors should continue to be a force in the Little 4.
McKinleyville — Junior-Laden Team
And speaking of establishing a new identity, no one did that better this year than McKinleyville. The Panthers may have struggled in terms of wins and losses, but this football team had an entirely new mentality in 2018, and with a junior-laden class they should be even better in 2019.
St. Bernard’s — Will Omey
In head coach Matt Tomlin’s words, there’s nothing he can’t do on a football field.
Sure he can’t do it all on his own, but he is one outstanding starting block, and a fantastic weapon to have on your team.
South Fork — Maturing Underclassmen
Numbers will always be a problem for a school the size of South Fork, yet the Cubs have established themselves as one of the top eight-player programs in the NCS.
They finished the season with just 12 players, playing against squads far larger, and as long as they can field a team next year they have a group of talented underclassmen that will be more experienced and better developed in 2019.
There are only 256 days to kickoff, are you getting excited yet?