By Ray Hamill — It’s been a whirlwind start to the new high school football season, with a season’s worth of talking points already, and we’re barely a month in.
One of the nine local varsity teams has already seen a change in head coach, while another is off to its best start in several years.
Not to mention the massive impact COVID has had, and how the now annual air quality concerns around the state have affected the early schedule.
Here then are the biggest early storylines for all nine teams …
ARCATA — Don’t count the Tigers out
It’s difficult to get a handle on just who this year’s Arcata Tigers are, with three lopsided games so far, including two losses against State championship caliber programs and a blowout victory over a clearly-outmatched Balboa side on Friday night.
Head coach Jamal Jones and his players didn’t panic after the early losses, which both came in games they only had a couple of days to prepare for after late changes in the schedule.
“Don’t count us out,” Jones said after the early setbacks.
And that faith in his roster appears to have paid off with a big confidence-boosting win on Friday.
The Tigers will be favorites in the Little 4 this year, and could yet be a force in the North Coast Section Division-6 playoffs.
They host Pinole Valley next week in their only scheduled game against another NCS D-6 opponent, which gives the game some added importance.
Quarterback Shane Purcell and receivers Alex Jioras and Carson Tucker have all impressed early on.
DEL NORTE — Warriors dominating on the ground, again
Guess who might just be the best team in the H-DNL right now?
The Fortuna Huskies may have the better record (3-0), but the Del Norte Warriors (2-1) have arguably looked more impressive.
Their only loss came against an athletic Enterprise team that is 3-0, and they’re beginning to find their groove again playing physical football and running the ball effectively, as usual.
We can’t read too much into Friday night’s blowout victory at Kelseyville, although the Warriors’ 480 yards rushing is an impressive stat nonetheless.
We’ll learn more about the Warriors in two weeks time when they open league play against St. Bernard’s.
Giancarlo Desolenni has been one of the team’s most impressive players so far, on both sides of the ball, as has lineman Sam Schauerman.
EUREKA — The best is yet to come for the Loggers
No team has been affected more by COVID protocols early in the season than the Eureka Loggers, who were unable to play on the opening two weekends because so many players were unable to practice or play.
They showed a lot of character in finding a way to win their season opener against Ukiah last week, but then gave up two late TDs in a 13-12 loss at Shasta on Friday.
The good news for the Loggers (1-1) is that they have all their players available again, and, according to head coach Andrew Haraldson, they played much better in their second game despite the loss.
Of all the teams on the North Coast, Eureka is poised to show the most improvement over the next few weeks.
Players like Sky Barone, Shyloh Nicholson and Joe Gonzalez are all enjoying outstanding starts to the season.
FORTUNA — Unbeaten start for the Huskies
Tougher challenges await Fortuna in the coming weeks, but the Huskies have taken care of business early on and have done everything asked of them.
Fortuna is the only unbeaten H-DNL varsity team, and as you would expect from a Mike Benbow coached side, the Huskies don’t make many mistakes and will continue to improve week by week.
Logan Miranda has been one of the most explosive players on the North Coast through the opening month.
The Huskies play at Foothill next week — and not this weekend as previously reported here on Humboldt Sports — before opening the Big 4 at home to Eureka in two weeks.
FERNDALE — Injuries hit the Wildcats hard
It’s been a tough start to the new season for the Wildcats, who graduated a slot of seniors from a strong team last season and have suffered multiple injuries already.
They had to cancel this week’s game against St. Bernard’s because of COVID protocols, and they will begin league play in two weeks with an 0-3 record.
The Cats, however, have not been without their bright spots and a number of players have been stepping up, most notably senior captains Seth Regli, Derek Griffith and Cole Carmesin.
HOOPA — The ‘bulls’ are back
Like Eureka, the Hoopa Warriors have had to endure a difficult start to the schedule and were forced to cancel their opening two games.
Since then, they have gone 1-1, with an impressive shutout victory over Trinity on Friday night.
Key to that victory was the return of three starting offensive linemen, who missed the opener for various reasons.
“I finally had my bulls on the line and we ran right behind them,” head coach Floyd “Cowboy” Billings said after the win.
The coaching staff has a lot of faith in this year’s team and is confident they can challenge for the Little 4, as well as in the Division-7 NCS playoffs.
We’ll learn a lot more about the Warriors in the coming weeks.
Lane Campbell and Darvin Davis in particular have energized this team with their early-season performances.
MCKINLEYVILLE — Best start in years for the Panthers
McKinleyville is 3-1 and will go into league play in two weeks time with a lot of confidence.
The Panthers haven’t been this excited in a long time, with new head coach Fel Barlow re-energizing the program, and they have been impressive on both sides of the ball, but particularly so on defense, posting two early shut outs and only allowing 20 points total in their four games.
One of the keys to the team’s success has been the players’ discipline and composure.
“It was a great effort,” Barlow said after a 44-6 win at Fort Bragg on Friday. “We didn’t have any mental breakdowns and we kept our composure. They’re learning mentally, and I love that part.”
Jack Clancy and Connor Berg are setting the tone offensively, while on the other side of the ball Willie Baumgarten came away with two interceptions on Friday.
SOUTH FORK — An old friend returns to the sideline
Cubs head coach Karl Terrell didn’t stay away very long.
The long-time coach retired from the program during the summer, but was back on the sideline once again this weekend after Jake Looney stepped down as head coach after just one game.
Terrell, who has overseen a lot of success for the Cubs in recent years, had just two days of practice with the players this week before they won 62-20 at Round Valley on Friday night.
The 1-1 Cubs graduated a lot of seniors from last year, but should be a force again in league play and perhaps even in the NCS playoffs.
ST. BERNARD’S — Business as usual for the Crusaders
After a sloppy first half in their first game of the season, it’s been business as usual for the Crusaders, who feature a high-octane offense and perhaps the best coach in the H-DNL (in any sport).
The small school program, which is off to a 2-1 start, will continue to have concerns matching up with the bigger local schools in the Big 4, but they won’t back down from the challenge and have the players and coaching to cause any of the other teams in conference plenty of problems.
After a spring season of growing pains for a very young roster, the Crusaders are one of the most improved teams in the H-DDL this fall (along with Mack) and will no doubt continue to get better as the season progresses.
Quarterback Drew Sisemore is one of the most dynamic players on the North Coast so far this season, while Demetrius Rawson is one of the top receivers and off to a flying start.
Once again, don’t be surprised to see this team make a big playoff run.