Kicking off their season a week later than most of the H-DNL, the Warriors wore down a good Arcata Tigers team on their way to 38-18 win at McKinleyville High on Saturday night.
And it didn’t seem to matter who they put in at running back, they continued to ground out the yards behind a physical offensive line.
Leading 14-6 at halftime, the Warriors scored on three of their first four possessions of the second half to put the game away.
And they did so with just three days of practice over the past two weeks because of COVID restrictions, and they did it with their third and fourth string running backs out there for much of the night.
“We came out not really knowing what to expect as far as our lack of practice and not playing a game,” head coach Nick White said. “But the kids came out hard.”
After opening the scoring on a 15-yard TD run early in the first quarter, senior running back and returning Big 4 Offensive MVP Levi Cox-Cooley was forced out of the game with a knee injury.
White says he held him out as a precautionary measure and they’ll know more in a couple of days.
Playing without their star running back didn’t slow the momentum immediately, however, with junior Isaiah Parsley intercepting a Shane Purcell pass on Arcata’s first possession and returning it 25 yards for a TD.
The Warriors led 14-0 less than four minutes in.
In fact, they were arguably the better team for the remainder of the first half, scoring on a 13-yard Carson Tucker TD catch from Purcell, and then driving deep into Del Norte territory late in the second quarter only to see the threat end on a interception by Del Norte sophomore RJ Loftin.
“That was a big one,” White said of Loftin’s pick, while adding that “Arcata is definitely improved this year. Their kids are playing hard and they’ve got a good passing game.”
White described Purcell as “arguably the best quarterback up here.”
The Arcata QB has been one of the stories of the H-DNL season so far, impressing a lot of coaches with his play.
On Saturday, he threw for three TDs — two to Tucker and one to Alex Jioras — but also threw three interceptions.
“He has a lot to learn, but he’s a humble kid and he’s going to come back to practice,” Arcata head coach Jamal Jones said. “He made some mistakes, but that’s how you get better.”
Overall, the Tigers as a team made too many mistakes, something you can’t do against a team as good as the Warriors.
“(Del Norte’s) a championship level program and we want to get there,” Jones said. “They’re extremely well-coached, and they’re extremely physical.
“They wore us down with that offense. I think they’re going to wear a lot of teams down with that offense.”
Loftin followed his first-half interception with a 16-yard TD run on Del Norte’s first possession of the second half, set up after they recovered an onside kick to start the half.
Junior fullback Caleb Dodson added two TD runs, one from 17 yards out on Del Norte’s second possession of the half, and one from 45 yards midway through the fourth quarter to give his team a 38-12 lead.
The second-half performance was a statement of intent from the Del Norte players, who answered their coach’s call at the break.
“We had a ton of adversity we had to face, and how you come out of it after halftime, that defines what kind of team you are,” said White. “And these kids came out and proved who they are in the second half.
“I think what impressed me most was the kids switching up roles and playing positions they’re not used to, and I think our overall mental toughness throughout the game as well.
“I’m super proud of every kid, because they all played a role and they all came in and contributed.”
In addition to Dodson, Mike Germain also ran the ball well in the second half, as well as adding a interception at DB late in the game, while lineman Sam Schauerman recovered a second-half fumble.
For Arcata, Tucker Rice also recovered a second-half fumble to give his team some momentum, while Jioras and Carson Tucker continued to cause their opponents a lot of problems at receiver.
“Every game they get better,” Jones said of Purcell’s favorite targets.
Mason Nichols also ran the ball hard for the second straight week, while cornerback Cameron Kline made some big plays on defense.
Likewise with linemen Robbie Dieker and Jack Baca, the latter of whom the coach said “played his heart out.”
Next weekend Arcata hosts Fortuna B and Del Norte hosts Eureka.