By Ray Hamill — The Del Norte Warriors still have some unfinished business to take of this coming weekend (and hopefully beyond), but the local prep football season has come to an end for the rest of the H-DNL schools.
Six of the nine programs made the North Coast Section playoffs, which made a welcome return this year after a one-season hiatus because of the pandemic.
COVID, unfortunately, continues to rear its ugly head and two of those six — South Fork and Arcata — saw their postseason participation come to a heartbreaking end when COVID protocols left them without enough players to play a game and forced them to forfeit.
It’s a devastating way to end the season, but especially so after the disappointment of last season, and even more so for a team like Arcata, which had realistic ambitions of making a state playoff run.
The ending, however, doesn’t take from how impressive the Tigers were this year, and they weren’t the only local team to impress.
And with that in mind, here are some grades for the six H-DNL teams that made the playoffs this year …
Unfortunately, we’ll never know just how far this team could have gone because of the abrupt and disappointing end to the campaign, but the Tigers can take some solace in the fact they were the most fun team to watch in the H-DNL this season and provided an abundance of brilliant highlights.
Led by a super talented group of seniors, this year’s Tigers would have caused serious concerns for any Big 4 team late in the season.
Head coach Jamal Jones is building a competitive program at Arcata High, and the Tigers get an A+ for sheer entertainment value alone.
Del Norte A+
Without a doubt, the Warriors were the best team on the North Coast this season, and they’re not done yet.
If they play to their ability this coming weekend, I don’t see the Mustangs stopping them, and the fact they have so thoroughly dominated their two playoff opponents so far will cause the San Marin coaches some sleepless nights this week while preparing.
The Warriors have the best rushing attack and the best run defense we’ve seen in the H-DNL in some time, and they have a group of talented players who are students of the game and are continually developing under their coaches.
The White brothers, Nick and Chris, have already become coaching legends in Crescent in just three years in charge and they are building something very special at the school.
If there was an A++ grade, Del Norte would probably deserve it this year.
It was a tale of two half seasons for the Warriors, who really deserved nothing more than a C- in the first half, but saw their grade skyrocket to an A+ in the second half with the most impressive stretch run of any H-DNL team.
So we’ll split the difference and give them a B+.
When they played well and didn’t make mental mistakes, the Warriors were as good as anyone in the Little 4, and the fact the players improved as much as they did over the course of the season speaks volumes for their attitude and the coaching staff.
The season ended with a disappointing loss in the opening round of the playoffs, but it will be remembered for the incredible three shutouts in the final eight days of the regular season, a run that catapulted them into the playoffs.
More remarkably, those shutouts were achieved against teams that had beaten the Warriors over the three previous weeks.
Like I’ve said before, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of three shutouts in eight days at any level of the game, and the Hoopa players can be proud of that unique achievement.
The Panthers had their problems in league play, but returned to the playoffs for the first time in seven years and were far more competitive than in recent years, and that has to be considered a big success.
If they put in the work in the offseason, there is every reason to believe this is only the beginning for the resurgent program and that the best is yet to come for this group, who seemed re-energized this fall under first-year head coach Fel Barlow.
Not every game was perfect, but the Panthers started and ended the regular season in impressive fashion, and ultimately that was enough to get them back to the playoffs, especially their league-ending win at Ferndale in a game they had to have.
They’re still a young roster and they will benefit from the experience of their playoff appearance.
St. Bernard’s A+
No team impressed me this year as much as the Crusaders.
They may not have been quite as good as Del Norte, but the improvement from the spring was astounding and a tribute to a super competitive senior class and the best prep football coaches on the North Coast.
The Crusaders matched up physically with far bigger schools all season long and back-to-back shutouts against Eureka and Fortuna to close out the regular season was a remarkable achievement.
Under head coach Matt Tomlin, St. Bernard’s has become one of the most competitive programs in the entire NCS.
South Fork B
It was a bit of an up and down season for the Cubs, but they did enough to get to the playoffs and that gets them a B.
The team featured a senior heavy line and lots of youth at the skill positions, and as usual under head coach Karl Terrell they found a way to be competitive while the young players developed.
Naturally, it was a hugely disappointing end to the campaign and we’ll never know if this group could have pulled off an NCS upset, but they have plenty of pieces in place to continue growing and should be a force again next fall.