By Ray Hamill — Football returned to the North Coast on Saturday for the first time in 15 months.
With the H-DNL season officially getting under way next weekend, six of the nine teams competed in three different scrimmages held around the county.
At Fortuna High, the Huskies hosted Eureka, while St. Bernard’s played at McKinleyville, and Ferndale traveled to Miranda to play South Fork.
And the general consensus from all concerned was how good it was to be back out competing.
“I tell you what, the Huskies are in mid-season form,” Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow said with a smile. “We looked fine for having 10 days of practice and being thrown out there. I was really happy with the effort.”
Likewise with Eureka head coach Andrew Haraldson, who was making his head coaching debut after taking over this season.
“They looked good,” he said of his players. “Our main objective was to play hard and I thought the effort was good. The fine tuning will happen when we look at film, but they played hard.”
Haraldson, whose team will play Fortuna on the final weekend of a five-week season, had plenty of praise for the Huskies.
“Coach Benbow and the Fortuna guys were great,” he said. “Everyone was having a good time and appreciating being out there.”
Eureka’s Brayden Youkey, who is among the most improved players on this year’s Eureka team, had a highlight catch, while Haraldson and his coaches got a glimpse into what the Bode brothers might can do, when senior Hayden combined with sophomore Rogan on an option play that went for 25 yards.
At McKinleyville, meanwhile, both the Panthers and Crusaders had plenty of reason for optimism.
“Outstanding,” is how St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin described his team’s performance. “I couldn’t believe how well we played with as young as we are and with as many starters as we were missing.”
The Crusaders, who have just one starting senior on their roster of 25, were missing five starters because of COVID contract tracing.
“I thought we really had a chance to develop our second string players today and give them some experience,” the coach added. “And I think that will really improve our depth.”
The long-time head coach was particularly impressed with the play of senior Demetrius Rawson at receiver and defensive end, and newcomer Dominic Kofi on the line.
“He was making plays all over the field,” Tomlin said of Rawson, while describing Kofi as “really physical inside and a big presence that really disrupted what they were trying to do.”
The Panthers too showed plenty of promise.
“I felt good about it,” McKinleyville head coach Keoki Burbank. “Like I told the guys, we had two weeks to get ready to go up against the state champions. I felt good. I thought we competed well with them.”
Like every team right now, however, Burbank knows there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
“We definitely have some places to clean up,” he said. “But I didn’t look at any spot on our team and think we don’t have an answer there.”
Big things are expected out of middle linebacker Connor Alto and the junior playmaker didn’t disappoint in his first action.
“He seemed to be all over the field,” Burbank said.
The Panthers are young, with just two returning seniors on a roster of around 20.
“As a bunch of underclassmen, for the most part, we went out and competed really well,” the head coach said.
The two returning seniors, Jayden Scher (RB/LB) and Howard Henderson (OL/DL), both impressed.
“He’s grown a lot since last year,” Burbank said of Scher, while praising Henderson for his “multiple pancakes.”
“The pass protection was on point today,” the coach added.
Sophomore Jack Clancy debuted at quarterback for the team, the first time he has played the position since the seventh grade, and Burbank liked a lot of what he saw from him.
“He brings an element (in the passing game) we haven’t had at McKinleyville in a while,” Burbank said.
At South Fork High, meanwhile, head coach Karl Terrell was also pleased with a lot of what he saw, while acknowledging his team is still a work in progress.
“We had some good moments, but we had some breakdowns,” he said. “We’re learning. We’re going to be fine.”
A group of key seniors led the way, with Alex Harding, Graham McConnell and Sean Hassall-Hoss all preforming well.
“Those guys are doing a heck of a job,” Terrell said. “They’re the leaders of our team.”
The South Fork coach was also impressed with what he saw from an experienced and disciplined Ferndale roster that is expected to compete well this season.
“Ferndale is a pretty solid team, with their 11 seniors out of 15 players,” he said. “They ran the ball well. Their front line did well.
“We were all happy to be out there, both sides of the ball. Each team learned a lot.”
Terrell expects his team to continue to grow.
“Each week we’ll get better,” he said.
The Cubs open the season at home to McKinleyville next week, while Ferndale plays at Arcata, Eureka at St. Bernard’s and Fortuna at Del Norte.