Playing against the Arcata Tigers under the lights at Mack High, the Cats opened up a 17-point lead early in the second half and appeared to be cruising to victory against a mistake-prone Arcata team.
But the Tigers came roaring back and had late opportunities to take the lead, before the Cats held firm and came away with a hard-fought 33-32 win in another epic battle this spring.
“The character of your team doesn’t show when you’re up, it shows when your back’s to the wall,” said Ferndale head coach Clint McClurg, whose team held the Tigers on fourth-and-goal twice in the second half. “And I was really, really proud of the way this team played tonight.”
For a young Arcata team, however, it was another heartbreaking loss, following on the season opening overtime defeat to Eureka.
“Just too many turnovers,” said head coach Jamal Jones, whose team fumbled away the ball on three of four possessions either side of halftime, and has now fumbled on their opening second-half drive in all four games this year. “I don’t ever make excuses, but sometimes our youth shows in football games.
“As coaches, we have to step back and realize we’ve got a lot of young guys out there.”
The Cats started fast, scoring on four of their first five possessions, including a 57-yard TD pass from quarterback Jenner Christiansen to receiver Colson Renner on their opening drive.
Check out Jenner Christiansen’s TD pass to younger brother Kannon here …
“I think Jenner being able to capitalize on our play action was really, really critical for our success,” McClurg said of the senior.
DJ Albee also had a huge night, running in for three TDs for the second straight week and giving his team a 33-16 advantage early in the third quarter,
The Tigers, however, refused to give up.
“Coach Jones has got Arcata moving in a very, very positive direction,” McClurg said. “We knew they were going to fight to the end. We knew they had the weapons that could score quickly.”
There was a notable momentum shift in the third quarter, as the Tigers defense tightened up and their offense continued to drive the ball well behind the stellar play of quarterback Shane Purcell and a bunch of talented receivers, all of whom will be back next season.
“I think our quarterback just keeps improving,” Jones said of Purcell. “He made a lot of plays, and our receivers made a bunch of plays. I don’t think we ran the ball in the second half.”
Purcell threw four touchdown passes, including two to Carson Tucker, from 24 and 20 yards out.
The second came with just seven minutes remaining in the game, and after Tucker also pulled in a two-point conversion catch the Tigers found themselves trailing by just one, 33-32.
But that was as close as they would get, with the Cats holding on down the stretch and sealing the win with some tough runs over the final minutes.
“I think our secondary was up for the test,” McClurg said of the challenge Purcell and the Arcata receivers posed.
Alex Jioras also had a nine-yard TD catch for Arcata, and teammate Ty Franklin added a five-yard TD catch.
“We played a solid second half, and they played a solid four quarters, and that was the difference in the game,” Jones said.
In addition to Albee, Lane Branstetter was outstanding running the ball all night for the Cats and more than once it seemed to take the entire Tigers defense to bring him down.
Sophomore Jack Westfall also had a big night, moving from linebacker to defensive tackle.
“He did great for us,” McClurg said of the sophomore standout. “When we needed it, he was able to create pressure.”
Branstetter also came away with two fumble recoveries, while Bryce Bell added another and also had a big sack late in the first half.
“This was fun for our team,” McClurg said. “It was revealing of their character. Our team came together. We had our backs to the wall and we made plays on defense and on offense when it mattered, and it’s the same players on both sides of the ball, and I was really, really proud of our team tonight.”
With the win, the Cats improved to 3-1, while the Tigers are now 1-3.