Shorthanded Tigers find a way to win late

Photos by Ray Hamill/ – Arcata’s Carson Tucker breaks free for a big gain during Friday night’s game.

By Ray Hamill — The Arcata Tigers answered the call on Friday night against a good Pinole Valley team, digging deep late in the game and holding on for a 36-28 victory at Mack High.

With three starters out because of COVID protocols, head coach Jamal Jones wasn’t even sure he would have any linemen available up until the morning of the game, and it didn’t look good when the Tigers allowed a three-TD lead to slip away in the second half.

But with the score tied at 28-28 late in the game, they found a way to win, scoring the go-ahead TD with less five minutes remaining and then stopping a dangerous and relentless Spartans running game in the final minutes.

Senior Ty Franklin was instrumental in the victory, scoring the fourth-quarter TD on a pass from quarterback Shane Purcell — the QB’s fourth TD pass of the game — and then coming away with a game-clinching interception in the final moments.

“Ty Franklin had a day,” Jones said.

So too did Purcell and the entire Tigers offense, with receivers Alex Jioras and Carson Tucker both also coming up big.

Purcell and Jioras connected on a pair of early touchdowns for the second straight week, as Arcata scored on its opening four possessions and led 28-7 at the half, with the visitors unable to halt their high-octane offense.

The home team opened the scoring a little over two minutes in, when Purcell and Jioras connected on a 14-yard scoring pass, a TD that was set up by a big Carson Tucker reception deep in Spartans territory.

With the Arcata line giving the quarterback plenty of time to throw the ball, he combined with Jioras for a second TD on their next possession, this one good for 67 yards as the sure-handed receiver broke a tackle on the sideline and took it to the house.

Check out Alex Jioras’ 67-yard TD reception below …

The Tigers were just getting warmed up.

On their next possession, Purcell threw his third TD of the night, this one to Tucker on a seven-yard play after big gains on the ground by Alex Gorge and Purcell moved the offense deep into Pinole Valley territory once again.

Gorge, who is becoming more of a threat out of the offensive backfield, added a fourth Arcata TD on a two-yard run later in the quarter after a big reception by Franklin gave them possession inside the Spartans five.

The visitors did cause the Arcata defense some problems running the ball all night.

They drove deep into Tigers territory on their opening three possessions, but only came away with one score — a 21-yard Larry Macdonald TD run — after seeing a pair of opportunities stall, one on a missed field goal attempt and the other after turning the ball over on downs.

The Tigers almost added to their lead right before halftime when Tucker pulled in a 28-yard reception at the goal line, but time ran out before they could find the end zone.

The second half, however, was a different story, with the visitors putting together several long time-consuming drives and keeping a dangerous Tigers offense on the sideline.

After scoring on their opening possession of the second half, the Spartans recovered successive onside kicks and would go on to score on both of them to tie the game at 28-28.

But when they had to, the Tigers found a way to win despite the obstacles this week.

“It was a rocky week for us,” Jones said. “And to go out there and do what they did tonight, as a coach you feel damn good about that.”

Once again, the line paved the way for the success on offense, even with two starters missing.

“I think our line adapted,” Jones said. “We’ve got guys in the right spots now. Even missing a couple of (starters), we had some guys step up.”

With the win, the Tigers improved to 2-2, while the visitors dropped to 2-3.

The Tigers open the Little 4 next week when they host Ferndale on Friday night.

“We know they’re going to be well-coached and ready to go,” Jones said of the Wildcats. “For us, it’s about having a solid week of practice, but we’re getting better. I’ve got faith in our staff and I’ve got faith in our players.

“We’re playing damn good football at the right time.”

Friday’s victory will help Arcata in the NCS seedings later in the year.

This was Arcata’s only matchup of the regular season against another North Coast Section Division-6 team, and the Spartans came into the game as the No. 3 ranked team in the Division on MaxPreps, two spots ahead of Arcata.

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