Defense shines again as Panthers go to 3-0 in the Little 4

Photos by Ray Hamill/

By Ray Hamill — The McKinleyville Panthers stretched their unbeaten start to league play with a third straight win on Friday night, as they got the better of the Arcata Tigers 40-20 at Mack High.

The home defense helped set the tone early with four of their six takeaways coming in the first half, including a pair of pick-sixes, and the Panthers led 26-0 at halftime.

A young Tigers team, however, responded well and came storming back to pull within 26-20 early in the fourth quarter, before the Panthers offense settled down again and scored a pair of late TDs to help seal the win.

“We went back to our game plan,” said McKinleyville head coach Fel Barlow, whose team also gave up a big lead against Ferndale earlier in league play. “I was getting worried, but that was beautiful the way our offense responded.”

Arcata head coach Matt Magers also liked the way his offense responded in the second half after failing to find any rhythm early in the game.

“Being able to rally like that, it was good to see,” he said. “My young guys played well. And the seniors, they played their hearts out.”

The Panthers found the end zone on their opening two possessions of the night, with John Randall scoring the first of his two TDs on a 14-yard run less than five minutes in.

After the Mack defense forced a quick three-and-out, the offense went to work again and Jack Clancy threw a 16-yard TD pass to receiver Payton Harbin.

Harbin had a big night and also came away with two first-half interceptions on defense, the second of which he returned 20 yards for a TD to give the home team a 19-0 lead less than three minutes into the second quarter.

Just four minutes later, Mettah Kuska scored the Panthers’ fourth TD of the half on a 21-yard pick-six.

Check out both of McKinleyville’s first-half pick-sixes above …

The Tigers managed just four first downs in the first half, but responded well with three unanswered touchdowns to begin the second half, including two on runs by Wilson Medina.

Quarterback Cole Vandenplas also threw a TD pass to receiver Oscar Carlson.

Jackson Strand also continued to impress for the visitors and had a big onside kick recovery in the third quarter, while the consistent Cedar Birdsall was another bright spot on both sides of the ball.

Ultimately, however, the turnovers were too much to overcome.

“It’s hard to win football games when you turn the ball over and kill yourself with penalties,” Magers said.

After the early second-half scare, the Panthers took the momentum back with two fourth-quarter TDs, on runs by Randall and Willy Patton.

“I loved the all-around performance,” Barlow said. “They all played their hearts out.”

At the halfway stage of the Little 4, the Panthers are now 3-0 and in control of their own destiny, with Hoopa their closest challengers at 2-1.

“We’ve got three more to go and all three will be tough,” Barlow said.

The Panthers are 4-3 overall and back above .500 for the first time since week one, while the Tigers dropped to 1-2 in the Little 4 and 2-5 overall.

Also on Friday, Hoopa defeated Ferndale 42-20.

Next up, Arcata hosts Hoopa and McKinleyville travels to play Ferndale.

1 reply »

  1. Defense, defense and… more defense…

    The story of the season so far…

    Don’t take Hupa for granted, those players are eager beavers… a tight unit…and the head coach has a “coach’s high-profile” name…

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