Well-prepared Huskies re-claim the Milk Can with dominating defense

Photos by Ray Hamill/HumboldtSports.com

By Ray Hamill — The Milk Can bragging rights are heading back across the Eel River to Fortuna.

On Saturday afternoon, the Huskies shut out their close rivals and neighbors to re-claim the coveted Can at Ferndale High, running out to 21-0 victory.

It was a decisive victory from a team that looks like it’s the best on the North Coast right now, with a dominating performance in just about every aspect of the game, especially on defense.

“At the end of the day you really have to give credit where credit’s due,” Ferndale head coach Clint McClurg said. “We have some things to improve on, but at the same time you’ve got to say (Fortuna’s) a cohesive group and they do a good job.”

Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow joked that his team was “in mid-season form” after a preseason scrimmage, but they really are now.

Through the opening two games of the season, they have displayed few weaknesses and have comprehensively outscored their opponents by a score of 75-18.

And they have had added motivation this spring, not just because of the uncertainty leading up to this season, but also because many of the players suffered a Milk Can defeat the last time these two rivals faced off in September of 2019.

“Our boys were hungry and dialed in,” Benbow said. “It was a great team effort.”

There were many heroes on the night, none more so than the combination of seniors Max Hough at quarterback and Branson Gans at receiver.

Check out Branson Gans’ second TD catch of the game below …

The duo combined on two first-half TDs, the first going for 25 yards on a fourth-down play to break the deadlock midway through the opening quarter.

Fellow senior Levi Nyberg scored on a one-yard run on the final play of the quarter, before Hough found Gans in the end zone again two minutes before halftime, this time from 20 yards out.

“He’s our leader and he showed up today,” Benbow said of Gans. “Along with Levi Nyberg and Max Hough.”

And the entire defense, which posted the shutout against a tough, physical and run-heavy Wildcats offense, rarely giving an inch all day.

According to the Benbow, that stellar defensive performance was founded on a solid week of practice.

“The biggest thing that impressed me was the amount of preparation our players put in,” he said. “Our defense was so dialed into the game plan, and we made plays when we had to on offense.”

The Huskies certainly did enough on offense in the opening half, piecing together four long drives and scoring on three of them.

For the game, Hough completed 10-of-18 passes for 155 yards and the two TDs, while Gans had five receptions for 83 yards and the two TDs.

Nyberg led a persistent ground game with 73 yards on 10 carries and the TD, while Hough added 25 yards rushing on eight carries.

Logan Miranda also had an impact, rushing eight times for 36 yards, while Breck Bishop carried the ball six times for 52 yards (and had a reception for 13), and Regan Nyberg added three catches for 26 yards.

The Huskies rushed for 196 yards as a team.

“It was a complete team effort,” Benbow said.

For Ferndale, senior Bryce Bell continued to impress on the defensive line and has been one of the Cats’ top performers so far this season.

At running back, DJ Albee grounded out some tough yards despite being doubtful to even start because of injury.

Sophomore Jack Wesfahl also had a good game at LB/DE.

“I was pleased with some of our young guys,” McClurg said. “They stepped up.”

For now, however, the most coveted trophy in the Eel River Valley is headed back to Fortuna, along with some bragging rights.

“It’s a great community game,” Benbow said. “And it’s bragging rights for the rest of their lives, because we’re friends with all of them.”

Next up on Friday night, Fortuna hosts St. Bernard’s and Ferndale plays at McKinleyville.

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