By Ray Hamill — If opening weekend is any indication, this year’s Big 4 should be a fun ride.
One night after St. Bernard’s edged Fortuna in a game that went down to the wire, the Del Norte Warriors held on for a 21-14 win over Eureka at Albee Stadium on Saturday night in a game that was far more competitive than most fans would have anticipated.
Indeed, this was a far cry from the 45-0 demolishing the Warriors handed out when they hosted the Loggers just three weeks ago.
After the Warriors rolled to a quick 14-0 lead on their opening two possessions, it looked like we might be in for more of the same, but the Loggers quickly settled down and matched their opponents stride for strike the remainder of the way.
The visitors, however, did just enough to get a key win and after several blowout victories this season they were able to overcome some adversity.
“I thought we made plays when we had to,” Del Norte head coach Nick White said. “It was just one of those grind out games, but I was proud of my players.”
Playing in front of their Homecoming crowd, the Eureka players certainly answered the call after being shut out by a combined 87-0 in their past two games against the Warriors.
“I couldn’t be any happier with the entire group,” first-year Eureka head coach Mike Marcelli said. “From three weeks ago and getting absolutely embarrassed to go toe to toe with Del Norte, I was very proud of them.”
After scoring on their opening two drives, including a 47-yard touchdown pass from Cooper Maxwell to Aden Mintonye on their first offensive play of the game, the Warriors did not find the end zone again until late in the fourth quarter.
With the game still in the balance and 3:40 on the clock, RJ Loftin scored on a three-yard TD run that was set up by a huge Brody Mattz interception at the Eureka 25 to push the lead out to two scores.
But it was still far from over.
The Loggers responded with a 20-yard TD run by Daniel Garcia-Hall with just 24 seconds remaining, but a relieved Del Norte team secured the win when Giancarlo Desolenni recovered the ensuing onside kick.
There were a number of factors that resulted in this game being far closer than the last meeting, including the fact that both teams were coming out of a three-week midseason break between games.
The Loggers used that beak to change some things on offense and went to a spread formation.
“Eureka has some of the best kids in league as far as physicality goes, and they were able to match our physicality,” White said. “They ran a spread offense. And they haven’t done that all year, so they definitely took advantage of the bye week.”
Marcelli felt his team was better prepared this time around.
“We weren’t as prepared as I would like to have been the last time, and that falls on the coaches,” he said. “I think we were a little more confident this time and we were really prepared for this game. We adjusted our offense and our kids responded very very well. It was a long way from where we were (three weeks ago).”
“We had two blown coverages that cost us the game basically,” Marcelli said.
It didn’t help when standout cornerback Dominic Conant was sidelined early with an injury.
The Loggers finally broke a nine-quarter scoreless streak against their rivals midway through the second quarter when the outstanding Rogan Bode scored on a 35-yard TD run.
The senior quarterback, who is playing as well as anyone in the H-DNL this season, also had an interception on Del Norte’s ensuing drive.
Both defenses settled into the game.
“I thought our defense played well,” White said. “It was kind of bend don’t break and we made plays when we had to.”
The Eureka linebackers also impressed.
“They just played lights out,” Marcelli said. “They play at a high energy level. I’m so proud of those guys.
“Our defense continues to step up. (Coordinator) Jeff Faulk, he does a tremendous job.”
The impressive Maxwell completed 6 of 13 passes for 135 yards and the two TDs, while Loftin had 58 yards rushing on 17 carries and Desolenni had 46 yards rushing.
Ethan Thomas also had two key receptions in the win.
The Warriors finished with 299 yards offense, while Eureka had 293 yards, with Bode completing 14 of 27 passes for 192 yards and rushing for 69 more on 12 carries.
Del Norte is now 1-0 in league and 6-1 overall, while Eureka is 0-1 and 3-3.
Next week, the Loggers play at Fortuna, while the Warriors will play at St. Bernard’s in showdown between the Big 4 leaders.