By Ray Hamill — Quarterback Shane Purcell threw for five touchdowns as the red-hot Arcata Tigers won again in football on Saturday, topping the Wildcats 32-20 in Ferndale.
The victory was the sixth straight for the high-flying Tigers, who are ranked No. 2 among Division-6 teams in the North Coast Section, according to MaxPreps, trailing only Salesian.
It also guarantees the Tigers at least a share of the Little 4 championship, lifting them to 4-0 in conference play with just two games remaining.
They can clinch the title outright with a victory in either of their final two games against Hoopa and McKinleyville.
“I think we can do some good things this year,” said head coach Jamal Jones, whose team is eyeing a big playoff run. “We’re trying to build. We know we’ve got a good shot at a good seed.”
The Tigers (6-2 overall) are playing well in all facets of the game, most notably their aerial attack, with Purcell and his plethora of sure-handed receivers close to unstoppable.
The Tigers led by two touchdowns less than five minutes into Saturday’s game and had stretched the advantage to 20-0 before the end of the first quarter.
They never looked in danger of losing this one and gave several of their younger players some valuable playing time throughout the second half.
Purcell now has an impressive 31 TD passes in the six-game winning streak and is reportedly attracting the attention of a lot of college coaches.
Check out our first-half highlights above …
On Saturday, he completed TD passes to Alex Jioras (twice), Carson Tucker, Ty Franklin and Oscar Carlson, a group of receivers that have been on fire this season and a group that appears to be getting stronger.
What makes the team’s success this year even more remarkable is the fact that many of the Arcata players never played football before high school.
“We’re the only school (in the H-DNL) without a Pop Warner program,” said Jones, who estimates about 75 percent of his players never played the sport before coming to Arcata High.
As the season has progressed, the Tigers have evolved, becoming less of a one-dimensional team, and on Saturday their running game was every bit as effective as the passing attack, with Alex Gorge and Wiyot Tierney showcasing their talents.
“Our running game was absolutely solid all day,” Jones said.
The offensive line did a good against a resilient Ferndale team, with three young players stepping up in the absence of some starters.
Freshman Everett Smith played his first-ever game of football and more than held his own at left tackle, alongside freshman Neiko Bryson at right guard and sophomore David Halligan at left guard.
“We’re playing good at the right time,” Jones said.
The Wildcats, to their credit, refused to give up and battled back in the second half to narrow the gap, with the very impressive Jack Westfall scoring on a pair of TD runs and the equally impressive Kanon Christiansen scoring on one.
“Those young men are really quality football players,” Ferndale head coach Clint McClurg said of Westfall and Christiansen, who have played at a consistently high level all season.
So too has Seth Regli, who continued to lead the way on the line and was “outstanding,” according to his coach, as well as Cole Carmesin, who stepped back into the starting quarterback role and “really played well for us,”
Sophomore Levi Dixon also returned to the line after missing the past few games through injury and had an immediate impact.
“You really do find your true blue players in October and November,” McClurg said.
The coach added that “we woke up in the second half, and that’s the momentum we have to take into Hoopa (next week). That’s a tough environment.”
Jones also praised the play of the Wildcats, who are now 2-2 in the Little 4 and 2-5 overall.
“Big respect to Ferndale. They play hard,” he said.
Jones and the Tigers also deserve big respect for what they’re achieving this year and it’s turning out to be a pretty special season for Arcata football.