By Ray Hamill — A change in the lineup led to an exciting Little 4 in 2018, with the race for the championship going down to the final weekend.
And local fans can expect more of the same this year, with not much separating the teams heading into the new season.
The defending champion Arcata Tigers will probably be considered slight favorites to retain their title, but Hoopa, Ferndale and McKinleyville are each also expected to be right in the thick of things.
The new season gets under way next week, with league play kicking off on the final weekend of September.
And the conference should be competitive from opening night, when Ferndale travels to the Redwood Bowl to play Arcata and Hoopa hosts McKinleyville.
The Panthers are perhaps the most intriguing of all four squads, and the one that is probably most difficult to predict.
Last season, a young Mack team finished winless in six conference games, but the Panthers were competitive in most of their games and could have been 4-2 but for a play or two each week.
Whether they can get over that hump is one of the biggest questions heading into the new season.
The Hoopa Warriors, meanwhile, established themselves as a competitive force once again last year after a barren spell for the program.
That shouldn’t change much this fall, but the question is whether the Warriors can take the next step and push on from last season’s second-place conference finish.
Injuries proved more costly for Ferndale a year ago than probably any other team in the Humboldt-Del Norte League, and the Cats will be hoping for a little more luck in that department in 2019.
Ferndale has a proud tradition, and a small but talented roster will have a point to prove this fall, which could make the Cats a dangerous proposition.
The Arcata Tigers, on the other hand, will be looking to defend the title they won a year ago after dropping down to the Little 4, as St. Bernard’s moved up to the Big 4.
After posting a 5-1 league record with a young team that also had to overcome a lot of injuries, Arcata could be even more dangerous this fall.
All in all, it should be another interesting campaign, and don’t be surprised to see things go down to the final weekend once again.