Panthers start strong, hold on for league-opening win

Photos by Ray Hamill/HumboldtSports.com – Action from Friday night’s game at McKinleyville.

By Ray Hamill — The Panthers didn’t make it easy on themselves in their Little 4 opener on Friday night, but they were able to hold on for a 38-22 over the Ferndale Wildcats at McKinleyville High.

The home team stormed out to a 20-0 lead by halftime with a thoroughly dominating first half, but the visitors battled back after the break to make a game of it.

“We’ve got to learn to close out games,” McKinleyville head coach Fel Barlow said. “I loved the first half, but I think we let down in the second half. We had them against the ropes. But overall, I liked the performance.”

The important thing for the Panthers is they got the win and ended a three-game losing streak.

John Randall had an outstanding night, running in for three touchdowns and setting up another score when he recovered the ball on special teams after a high Ferndale snap.

“John did a lot,” Barlow said.

The senior team captain opened the scoring on a two-yard TD run midway through the first quarter, as the home team took the opening possession 75 yards on 14 plays.

The Panthers would score on three of their first four possessions, including a 22-yard TD run by Tyler Marsh and a one-yard TD pass from quarterback Jack Clancy to Mettah Kuska.

Randall would add two more TD runs in the second half, and Clancy would throw for a second TD, connecting with receiver Payton Harbin.

Marsh and Harbin each also had first-half interceptions, as the Panthers frustrated the Wildcats in all facets of the game.

Three of Ferndale’s four first-half possessions ended in a turnover.

Derek Ray had another big night for Mack in the trenches and has been one of his team’s most consistent players all season.

Harbin too is enjoying a big season with the team after transferring in from Eureka this year, while Willy Patton also ran the ball effectively to help his team take control of the game.

The Wildcats to their credit made a game of it in the second half and gave the home team all they could handle after the break.

With the win, the Panthers improved to 1-0 in league play and 2-3 overall, while the Cats are now 0-1 and 2-3.

We’ll have more details on the Ferndale performance on Saturday.

The Ferndale JVs fared better, winning 24-16.

The young Cats improved to 5-0 and are the last remaining undefeated H-DNL team this year, varsity or JV.

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