By Ray Hamill — The Ferndale Wildcats continued to build momentum with their fifth win in six games on Saturday, taking care of the visiting McKinleyville Panthers by a score of 41-12 at Coach Carlson Field.
The victory leaves the Cats with a 3-0 record in the Little 4 and alone atop the standings at the halfway stage of conference play.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, with the visitors catching Ferndale off guard on an early onside kick that they recovered and converted into a 6-0 lead.
The Panthers also came out the stronger of the two teams early in the second half, cutting into the Wildcats’ lead midway through the third quarter to steal the momentum.
The Ferndale players, however, answered the challenge on both occasions, eventually pulling away for a comfortable win.
“I was definitely pleased, because any time you can overcome early adversity, that’s always something you can build on,” Ferndale head coach Clint McClurg said.
Landon Gomes again had a huge impact for the Wildcats, running in for three touchdowns, including a couple of early scores to give his team a 20-6 advantage in the second quarter.
Receiver Javier Lopez also continued to impress, stretching the lead to 21 points five minutes before halftime on a short scoring pass from quarterback Jenner Christiansen.
The junior wideout has emerged as a leading threat at his position this season, and quietly is piecing together an impressive campaign.
“He’ll make a big play for us whenever we need it,” McClurg said.
Lane Branstetter added a pair of TD runs, breaking free for a 45-yard score late.
“Between Gomes and Lane Branstetter, these are two throw-back type of players,” McClurg said of his running backs. “And DJ (Albee) too. He’s no slouch either. These are guys who fight for every yard.”
All of them have contributed to a balanced Wildcats team this season, one that has been among the most pleasant surprises on the North Coast and one that is well in contention for a league championship and possibly more.
And all of them continue to rely on the efforts of a line that has outplayed five of its last six opponents.
“Once again, up front our offensive line is displacing the defensive players,” McClurg said. “And McKinleyville is pretty big.”
In particular, Dominic Regli continues to carry much of the load with senior standout Orion Benton still sidelined, as do fellow seniors Haven Harrington and Tristen Martin.
Kyler Carr scored the opening touchdown for the Panthers, who dropped to 0-3 in league play and 1-6 overall, while quarterback Jack Patton connected with receiver Che Jimenez on a 20-yard TD pass for their second score.
Jimenez also had a big interception late in the second quarter when the Cats were threatening to add to their lead.
The Cats host Arcata next week, where a win will guarantee them at least a share of this year’s conference championship.
McKinleyville will host Hoopa.
Ferndale is now 5-2 overall.