By Ray Hamill — For at least three of the nine North Coast teams, the playoffs are essentially already under way.
Eureka and Fortuna both have to win this weekend to make the postseason, while anything less than a win for Arcata at Hoopa could very well end the Tigers’ shot at playoff inclusion when the brackets are announced a week from Sunday.
Hoopa also needs to win one of its final two games, although the Warriors added a home showdown against California School for the Deaf next week in what will be a must-win game even if they fall to Arcata this weekend.
In fact, of the nine North Coast teams, only McKinleyville has been eliminated from playoff contention heading into what is the final weekend for most of them.
St. Bernard’s, Del Norte, Ferndale and South Fork all are guaranteed a playoff spot at this stage, and all four are likely to host at least one game.
For each, however, there’s still some playoff positioning up for grabs, and the possibility of adding an extra home playoff game along the way.
The action gets under way on Friday night with four local games, including the Big 4 showdown in Crescent City between Eureka (0-2 in the Big 4, 3-6 overall) and Del Norte (2-0, 8-1), with the Warriors needing a win to clinch the conference title outright.
Also on Friday, Arcata travels to Hoopa and Ferndale plays McKinleyville at the Redwood Bowl, while in eight person football South Fork hosts Tomales.
On Saturday, Fortuna (1-1, 3-6) heads to St. Bernard’s (1-1, 7-2).
For more on the Eureka/Del Norte game, see Do or die time for Loggers at Del Norte …
For more on the St. Bernard’s/Fortuna game, see SB line prepares for latest test against much-improved Fortuna …
Arcata (3-2, 5-4) at Hoopa (2-3, 3-5), 7:30 p.m.
The Tigers are playoff eligible but a loss could very well see them slide in the pecking order in the Division-6 field, where they are battling for a lower seed.
Hoopa, meanwhile, likely needs one win in its final two games to make the Division-7 field.
But head coach Sonny Ryles is looking for more than that.
“I firmly believe in our kids, and that we can win out with the talent and kids we have,” Ryles said. “I’m very optimistic we can win out and be 5-5 and head into the playoffs with some momentum.”
Beating the Tigers won’t be easy, however, and the Hoopa coach is expecting a battle in the trenches.
“Their offensive line is great,” he said. “They’re really good in pass protection … and they’re really quick for how big they are.
“And defensively they’re very disciplined. It’s hard to get them out of position. They’re always well coached and come with a good game plan.”
Offensively, the Warriors have one of the top quarterbacks on the North Coast this season, John Smith, who has impressed since coming back from injury at the start of league play.
“He’s been awesome,” Ryles said. “He had a couple of tough interceptions last week (against Ferndale), but I love his ability to bounce back.”
Smith has benefitted from the presence of several reliable receivers, including Carlos Aguilar, Jasper Hostler and Sam Jones.
Ferndale (5-0, 7-2) at McKinleyville (0-5, 1-8) at the Redwood Bowl, 7 p.m.
The Wildcats will be looking to close out a perfect Little 4 campaign and solidify their bid for a top-two seed in the NCS Division-7 playoff bracket.
The Panthers on the other hand, will be looking to close out an injury-plagued season with a bang, especially their seniors, who will be playing their final game and will be honored before kickoff.