Eureka

Loggers win a thriller at Fortuna, close out unbeaten

Photo by Jose Quezada/Humsport.com – Eureka’s Hans Chalmers breaks up a pass intended for Fortuna’s Levi Nyberg in the end zone in the final minute of the fourth quarter on Friday night.

By Ray Hamill — It was a fitting ending to what has been a highly entertaining season, with the top two teams in the H-DNL this spring slugging it out and going back and forth all night at Fortuna.

And in the end, it took an overtime period to separate them, with Mengka Vang’s game-winning PAT giving the Eureka Loggers a 21-20 victory over the Huskies by the narrowest of margins.

“That was a crazy one,” Eureka head coach Andrew Haraldson said. “I was so proud of our players and our coaches. It was such a gritty performance.”

The win capped an undefeated season for the Loggers (5-0), but they had to fight for every inch against a senior-heavy Fortuna team that refused to go down easily.

“It was an amazing game,” said Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow, whose team closes out the spring 4-1. “Both teams played their hearts out. It was just a pity someone had to lose.”

The Huskies took the lead twice in the opening half and held a 14-7 advantage at the interval.

But the Loggers came out the stronger of the two in the second half, quickly tying the game on a seven-yard TD run by senior quarterback Hayden Bode and Vang’s second PAT of the night.

The Eureka defense also stepped up its game in the second half, forcing two quick three-and-outs and coming away with a Kayro Jiminez interception, all on the Huskies’ first three possessions of the half.

But the momentum shift didn’t last, and the Fortuna defense tightened up for the remainder of regulation, twice coming away with the ball on downs at their own 20, in addition to a Branson Gans interception, his second takeaway of the night.

Check out Mengka Vang’s winning PAT and the celebrations below …

“Our defense played really well,” Benbow said. “I think that both teams were very prepared for each other. It was a battle because we were both so prepared. It was a fantastic game.”

The Huskies got the ball first in overtime, with a heavy dose of senior running back Levi Nyberg setting up a one-yard TD run by senior quarterback Max Hough, but they missed on the two-point conversion.

On a night like this, however, nothing was going to come easy for the Loggers, who had to convert two fourth downs on the way to tying the game again, the first on a 15-yard Hayden Bode completion to Hans Chalmers, and the second on a fourth-and goal at the one, when Rogan Bode ran in for the TD.

Chalmers, a sophomore, was outstanding all night at multiple positions, pulling in several big catches at receiver, while also making a big pass breakup in the end zone on a fourth-down attempt in the final minute of regulation.

Vang also stepped up on his return to the team after missing last week’s game with an injury.

“I was really happy to give him the opportunity to win the game,” Haraldson said of his kicker. “Mengka’s one kid you love to cheer for.”

The Huskies took the lead on their opening possession of the game, when Nyberg scored on a seven-yard TD run.

They continued to drive the ball well in the first half, but saw two possessions end on downs deep in Eureka territory, while Keeb Her scored on a seven-yard run to tie the game for Eureka midway through the second quarter.

Late in the second quarter, Gans recovered a fumble for Fortuna at the Eureka 14 and the Huskies scored three plays later on a 15-yard TD pass from Hough to Regan Nyberg to lead 14-7 at the interval.

The Eureka defense, however, tightened up after the interval.

“We have a young team and we have to remind them that this is what we do in practice,” Haraldson said. “And to their credit, they stepped up. I was so proud of our younger guys.”

Some of the seniors stepped up too, with Bode and Her outstanding all night on both sides of the ball, while defensive back Timothy Lee also made some key plays.

“Our team leaders are tough, resilient kids, so our team is a tough, resilient team,” Haraldson said.

The first-year head coach, who has yet to lose a game in the job, paid tribute to his coaching staff and in particular offensive coordinator Garett Montana, who came out of retirement this spring to help out.

“I have to give credit to Garett Montana,” Haraldson said. “He gave everything he could to this mini season. He’s a football genius, but he’s even more gifted with people. We would not have done this without him.”

Benbow also praised the efforts of his 16 seniors who were honored before the game.

“It was an incredible group that did all the things we asked them to do,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group to go through this with.”

The win was the second overtime victory this season for the Loggers, who also needed an extra period to get the better of Arcata in their opener.

And the season finale for both teams lived up to its billing as the game of the season, giving the fans in attendance everything they could have hoped for between these two powerhouse rivals.

“We couldn’t have ended it better,” Haraldson said. “It was awesome.”

Ray Hamill/HumboldtSports.com

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