Stellar defense lifts the 12-percenters to statement win

Photos by Ray Hamill/

By Ray Hamill — They had to battle all the way, but the McKinleyville Panthers celebrated their Homecoming with a key 18-14 win over visiting Hoopa on Friday night.

The win, which was the second straight for the Panthers, lifts them to 2-0 in the Little 4 and gives them sole possession of top spot in the standings.

“That 12 percent is looking good,” McKinleyville head coach Fel Barlow said afterwards with a chuckle, referring to a pre-league fans poll that had the Warriors overwhelming favorites to win the Little 4 and pulling in 72 percent of the votes compared to the Panthers’ 12 percent. 

The 12-percenters won thanks to their defense and special teams, with two big takeaways in Hoopa territory setting up their opening two scores of the night and the third coming on a special teams play when they recovered a fumble on a Hoopa punt attempt and ran it in for a TD.

The Mack defense had to dig deep again late in the game with Hoopa finally finding some rhythm running the ball, and the Panthers were able to stop the visitors on downs at their own 36 with just four minutes remaining.

After that, the home team was able to run out the clock and hold on for a crucial victory that could go a long way toward ultimately deciding this year’s league title.

The Hoopa defense was equally impressive and the Warriors’ opening score of the game came on a pick-six by Jason Marshall, which tied the game at 6-6 early in the second quarter.

John Randall opened the scoring for the home team on a 39-yard TD run late in the first quarter, a score that was set up on an Ayden Hillis sack strip that was recovered by the ever-industrious Derek Ray.

Hillis, a junior linebacker, had an outstanding night and was as instrumental as anyone in the win, scoring his team’s third TD on the big special teams play midway through the third quarter to help the Panthers open up an 18-6 lead.

The Warriors, however, responded immediately and quickly marched 60 yards on five plays to score on an inspirational 15-yard Gerard Marshall TD run, before the ensuing two-point conversion pulled them within four points.

The Hoopa defense then stepped up again, forcing a punt less than a minute into the fourth quarter and allowing an offense that was slowly building momentum to go back to work.

The Warriors then drove from their own 14 to the McKinleyville 33 on an impressive seven-minute drive, but the Panthers D had the final say and came up with the big stop.

“The defense played well,” Barlow said. “But that’s what I expect of my team. I told my coaches, we’re a defensive team.”

McKinleyville took a 12-6 lead into halftime after senior quarterback Jack Clancy found Graeson Amato in the end zone on an 11-yard TD pass after Randall had recovered a fumble at the Hoopa 11 inside the final minute of the half.

The Warriors appeared to answer in thrilling fashion as time expired at the end of the second quarter, when quarterback Lane Campbell launched a 53-yard Hail Mary that was caught by Darvin Davis IV right at the goal line. But Davis was ruled down at the two-yard line as time expired and the officials called a pass interference penalty on the Mack defense, which resulted in one non-timed play back near the original line of scrimmage, and the Warriors were unable to take advantage.

“We won that game,” Hoopa head coach Floyd “Cowboy” Billings said. “It doesn’t say it on the scoreboard, but we had a touchdown and they called it back.”

Billings admitted that the turnovers “didn’t help.”

“That’s stuff we have to clean up,” he said. “It’s just a hard pill to swallow.”

Billings also praised the effort of his defense, which continues to play at a high level and shut out the Panthers offense in the second half, while only allowing one scoring drive of more than 11 yards all night.

“They dug deep, the defense as a whole,” he said. “They dug deep. It was a chess match.”

The win was the first for the Panthers on a Homecoming night for as long as Barlow can recall.

And what impressed the coach the most was how his team found a way to play hard and smart for all four quarters of the game, and against a good team too.

“I loved the overall effort,” he said. “We finally put it together. It seemed like it was getting away from us again, but they learned from the last game. They stepped it up.”

The pass protection also was a big bright spot for the Panthers, who gave Clancy plenty of time to throw the ball.

McKinleyville is now 2-0 in the Little 4 and 3-3 overall, while Hoopa dropped to 1-1 and 4-2.

“This one hurts, but we’re going to battle back,” Billings said. “We always do.”

The Panthers also won the JV game 18-16.

2 replies »

  1. Billings is great. 4 points.

    Mack @ Hupa… ought to be Supa in Hupa…

    Predict Hupa prevails by 3 scores…

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