By Ray Hamill — The Ferndale Wildcats had to overcome some early adversity in Saturday’s season-ending showdown at home to Hoopa, but they took control of the game in the second quarter and ran out to a comfortable 40-6 win.
Lane Branstetter, one of 10 Wildcat seniors honored before the game, scored four touchdowns in the win, including three rushing.
Fellow senior Jenner Christiansen also had a big final game, throwing for three TDs, one each to Branstetter, Javier Lopez and Emmitt Albee.
“I thought overall we were able to adapt and overcome some adversity,” said Ferndale head coach Clint McClurg. “It was senior day and it was definitely an emotional time.”
Five of those seniors — Christiansen, Lopez, Branstetter, Caden Rocha and DJ Albee — have played all four years with the team.
And all five have left their mark on a program steeped in winning tradition.
A talented senior class also includes Emmitt Albee, Charles Lockett, Bryce Bell, Colson Renner and Garrett Christiansen.
It was a savvy, veteran team that closed out 4-1 and would likely have competed for a North Coast Section championship had they gotten the opportunity.
“These young men, I was fortunate to work with them,” the head coach said, adding that everyone involved appreciated the fact they got to play at all this year. “I think it was great for every community that got to be involved.”
A young Hoopa team, meanwhile had just two seniors on hand this season and is expected to be a force over the next two seasons.
They certainly showed some fight against the Wildcats and impressed McClurg.
“That Hoopa team was young and they’ve got a great attitude and they had plenty of fight,” he said. “I think they’ve got something in the making.”
Hoopa’s two seniors both closed out their high school careers with a big performance.
Larry Tracy impressed on both sides of the ball, including making what was arguably the play of the game when he chased down Lopez from across the field to make a touchdown-saving tackle after the Ferndale receiver had broken free.
“That showed we’re here to play,” Hoopa head coach Floyd “Cowboy” Billings said of the play. “That showed heart.”
Fellow Hoopa senior Sly Logan also played “like a beast” along both lines, according to his coach.
“He hardly came out of the game,” Billings said. “He was out there leading by example.”
Quarterback Lane Campbell and receiver Talon Borden combined to score the Warriors’ only TD on a passing play in the first quarter, which gave them a 6-0 lead.
“We went right down and got on them quickly,” Billings said.
The Wildcats, however, made some adjustments and grew into the game, quickly taking control with three second-quarter Branstetter TD runs, the third set up on Lopez’s big gain.
Billings believes his young players will grow from the experience and will be a better team down the road.
“I’m proud of my boys,” he said. “We were playing seniors and we played them tough.
“It’s hard to play Ferndale in Ferndale, and our kids walked out with their heads held high.
“We’re going to be a force to be reckoned with. I see some real potential with this team.”