Exciting finish as Little 4 showdown goes down to the wire

File photo – Cole Vandenplas

The Arcata Tigers kept their playoff hopes alive with their third win in four games on Friday night, edging the Ferndale Wildcats 28-26 in a very entertaining showdown at McKinleyville High.

The win lifts the young Tigers to 3-2 in league play, and while the Little 4 championship is out of reach, the playoffs remain a realistic goal with just one game remaining.

But they had to battle for this one against a Ferndale team that was far more competitive than its 0-5 league record would suggest, and one that almost stole the victory in the dying minutes.

It was back and forth for much of the night, with both teams alternating scores, but the Cats took their first lead of the game late in the fourth quarter when senior Jack Westfall broke free down the sideline for a 77-yard TD run to put them up 26-21.

The Tigers, however, answered immediately, driving the length of the field on four plays and re-taking the lead on a diving catch in the end zone by Oscar Carlson for his third TD catch of the night, all from quarterback Cole Vandenplas.

The excitement didn’t end there.

Just a few plays later, Westfall competed a 45-yard bomb to Kannon Christiansen, who was tackled just short of the end zone by sophomore Jackson Strand, who forced the ball loose as he made the tackle.

Arcata’s Cedar Birdsall recovered the fumble and the Tigers were able to run out the clock.

Overall, it was an impressive win for an Arcata team that is gradually building momentum ahead of the playoffs and has been able to put a disappointing 1-4 start to the season behind them.

“I think our offense finally is clicking,” head coach Matt Magers said. “It felt good to get the passing game going. Cole looked good out there.”

Vandenplas and Carlson combined on TD passes of 50 and 74 yards in the first half, while Birdsall also scored on an 86-yard punt return.

Christiansen opened Ferndale’s scoring on a three-yard TD run and Thomas Fergison found the end zone on a pair of QB sneaks, the second coming early in the second half and capping an impressive 14-play drive that included a lot of Westfall and Christiansen runs behind linemen Braxten Zuagg and Skiler Hall.

Check out Jack Westfall’s long touchdown run above …

That, however, was the last of the scoring until the exciting finish, as both defenses settled into the game.

The Tigers feature a young lineup with several sophomores and freshmen playing pivotal roles, including linebackers Neiko Bryson (sophomore) and Lincoln Neuman (freshman).

“Hats off to those guys for getting the job done,” Magers said of his linebackers. “They played really well and it was a tough game for those guys.”

The Tigers, who close out the regular season next weekend against Little 4 champion McKinleyville, are the No. 8 ranked team in North Coast Section Division 6, according to MaxPreps, and a win in their final game would likely secure a playoff berth.

Westfall and Chrtistianen, meanwhile, continued to play pivotal roles for the Wildcats, who continue to battle despite falling to 0-5 in league play.

The athletic Issak Kasso also had some big plays for the team and head coach Clint McClurg says he would like to get the junior more involved offensively.

The Cats wil look to avoid a winless league campaign when they host Hoopa next week.

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