By Ray Hamill — The McKinleyville Panthers are clearly enjoying their football again.
On Friday night they rolled to a comprehensive 42-0 win over Willits at Mack High, storming out to a five-touchdown lead in the first quarter and never looking back.
The same team that struggled to compete in recent years and found itself on the wrong end of blowouts like these, is now 2-1 on the new season and enjoying a whole new lease of life.
The Panthers wasted little time taking control of Friday’s game, opening with a big defensive stand and then scoring their first TD on their very first offensive snap, when senior running back Connor Berg broke free up the middle and took it 72 yards to the end zone.
They were just getting started.
The Mack offense would score three touchdowns on its opening eight plays, while the special teams added a 45-yard punt return and the defense chipped in with a 50-yard pick six.
All in the opening quarter.
The performance, however, was far from flawless, and the home team had some sloppy moments, which might have cost them against a top team.
“I’m sorta happy,” Mack head coach Fel Barlow said. “On the physical part we played our game, but the mental aspect hurt us.
“There were still a lot of dumb penalties, a lot of mistakes, and if it was a good team we were playing we could have lost the game.”
Junior running back John Randall made it a two-touchdown advantage on a four-yard scoring run midway through the first quarter, before Berg found the end zone a second time less than two minutes later, this time from 13 yards out.
After holding the visitors to a quick three-and-out on the next possession, with Jack Saso and Derek Ray making big tackles, the Panthers then quickly added a fourth TD on sophomore Tyler Marsh’s 45-yard punt return.
On the very next play from scrimmage, junior linebacker Mettah Kuska intercepted a pass and took it 50 yards for a score.
Marsh would add a second TD in the third quarter, finding the end zone on a 49-yard run to close out the scoring.
Defensively, the Panthers gave up just one first down in the opening half, and the shutout was the team’s second in three games this season.
Barlow used the occasion to give his back-ups plenty of playing time.
“It’s like a building process,” the head coach said. “Like I told the kids, we’re not building off one game, it’s going to be all year.”
A young and inexperienced Willits team dropped to 0-2.
The Wolverines had better luck in the JV game, shutting out the Panthers 27-0.
The loss was the first for the Mack JVs in three games this season.