Playing without one of their team leaders, the Ferndale Wildcats gave the 7-AA state champion Fall River Bulldogs all they could handle in Friday night’s season opener.
Ultimately, however, some special team errors and a controversial call that changed the momentum of the game would cost the Cats, who fell 30-20.
“I felt we were more physical,” Ferndale head coach Clint McClurg said. “I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively, and that’s a real positive thing moving forward.
The home team struck early when they took the opening kickoff to the end zone, but the Wildcats responded to take a 7-6 lead when Levi Dixon ran in for a 15-yard touchdown and Dayton Comer added the first of his two PATs for the game.
Special teams play would cost the Cats again when the Bulldogs jumped on a loose ball in the Ferndale end zone after they had punted, and they would add a third TD to lead 18-7.
With senior quarterback Jack Westfall sidelined through injury, junior Thomas Fergison stepped in for Ferndale and played well.
He connected with receiver Isaak Kasso on a big 48-yard pass to set up a short Trent Titus TD run that would pull the Cats within 18-13.
The Ferndale defense then forced a Fall River punt on the ensuing drive, but a crucial penalty call that McClurg felt was very questionable kept the drive alive and the Bulldogs would take a 24-13 lead.
Despite the momentum shift, the Cats kept battling and Fergison found the end zone late when he dove for the pylon after a 25-yard scramble and got the ball across the goal line.
“He really, really did step up,” McClurg said of Fergison. “He showed leadership and he controlled the huddle.”
Wes Renner also had a good showing at runing back, tight end and outside linebacker and had “an outstanding game,” according to his coach.
Senior Kannon Christiansen also continued to set the tone and was a key vocal leader for his team throughout, while junior Andrew Clevenger led the way on the line and was “scrappy all game,” McClurg said.
Dixon was forced from the game through injury and the Wildcats finished the night with just 13 players.
McClurg said the walking wounded are all day-to-day and he is hoping to have them back shortly, with Westfall possibly returning as soon as next week.
Also in action on Friday, the Ferndale JVs got the season off to a winning start with a 27-0 victory.
The Cats played well in all facets of the game, scoring two defensive TDs, one on special teams and one on offense.
The Wildcats play at South Fork next week.