The Del Norte Warriors continued to make history on Saturday night, and they’re not done yet.
Playing in a first-ever NCS football championship game, the Warriors pulled out a thrilling 14-13 win over Encinal in the Division-5 decider at Hayward High School to win a first-ever section title in the sport.
And they had to fight all the way to the end for this one — the very end — denying the No. 1 seeded Jets the win on a blocked field goal as time expired.
Senior Chase Blackburn somehow got his hand on the 25-yard attempt, sending a large Del Norte contingent of fans into a frenzy and keeping a thrilling Warriors season going.
“It was our last chance,” Del Norte head coach Nick White said of the block. “Every kid tried their hardest, and Chase Blackburn laid out and dove and got there. It was awesome.”
The win sends the Warriors on to a NorCal Regional bowl game next weekend for the first time ever, with a berth in a state bowl game on the line.
“It’s huge for the program and the community,” White said. “The whole community was on our side all week and that’s what it’s all about. We had more fans there than (Encinal) did, and they’re only 20 minutes away.”
The Warriors will be hoping for some home-field advantage in the regional showdown, with schedules and sites set to be announced on Sunday afternoon.
In what was an expected defensive battle, the No. 2 seed Warriors scored twice in the first half, and that was all they would need, thanks to some stellar defense and a little bit of luck.
The Jets scored a second TD to pull within one point of the Warriors midway through the fourth quarter, but a couple of penalties, including an excessive celebration call, forced them into a long PAT attempt and they missed.
That would prove to be the difference in a tight game.
Offensively the Warriors did enough to sustain some drives against the impressive Jets defense, grinding out 201 yards for the night, with Blackburn, Levi Cox Cooley ad Kobe Mitchell all contributing behind a physical line, as usual.
Blackburn opened the Warriors’ account on a 15-yard TD run midway through the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7, before quarterback OJ Callega snuck into the end zone from a yard out late in the second quarter to give Del Norte a 14-7 advantage at the interval.
And despite the home team sustaining some drives themselves in the second half, that advantage proved to be just enough.
Afterwards White described the celebrations as “pure joy and excitement.”
“All the hard work the kids put in has paid off,” he said. “We were on a mission from the beginning of the season. And we’re still on a mission.
“Offensively, we hung in there like we have all year, and now we’ve done something that’s never been done at Del Norte.”
Calleja summed up the players’ feeling after such an emotional win.
“OJ Calleja said to me, ‘is this a dream coach?’” White said.
The entire Del Norte community could be forgiven for feeling along the same lines.
“For Crescent City, this is their Super Bowl,” the first-year head coach said. “For the community this is a big deal. For the program it’s a big deal.”
Likewise for the players, and when asked what has impressed him most about the historic achievement, White paid the final tribute to his players.
“Just the kids’ will to win,” he said. “It came down to the last second and they fought to the very end.”