The McKinleyville Panthers apparently weren’t in much of a sharing mood on Friday night.
After clinching a co-championship in the Little 4 last week, they sealed it outright this week with a 14-12 win in an exciting showdown at Hoopa.
The win was the fifth straight for the Panthers, all of them coming in league play, and it guarantees them a home game in the North Coast Section playoffs.
Senior quarterback Jack Clancy and junior running back Willie Patton combined to give the visitors the lead on a short TD pass in the first half.
But the Warriors responded when Darvin Davis IV scored on a short TD run to leave them trailing 7-6 at halftime.
John Randall would add a second TD for the Panthers on a short run in the third quarter, but the Warriors refused to go down easily and would make for an exciting finish when quarterback Lane Campbell threw a TD pass to Brian Gulley with under two minutes remaining.
The McKinleyville defense, however, has been a strength for the league champs this season and the unit stepped up once again to stop the two-point conversion attempt to preserve the lead.
“It was a battle back and forth,” Hoopa head coach Floyd “Cowboy” Billings said. “It was a good game. It was a good chess match. I’m just disappointed the outcome didn’t go our way.”
The loss was the third in four weeks for the Warriors, including their second to the league champions.
They are now 2-3 in league play and 5-4 overall, with all four of their losses coming by an average of just three points.
The Panthers (6-3 overall), meanwhile, have grown as a team as the season has progressed and they are playing with a composure we haven’t seen from this program in recent years.
“I think they’re learning how to play football,” said Barlow, who added he was impressed with his players’ mental game. “Our kids didn’t break down.”
Payton Harbin also continued to impress in the win and had another interception.
There were plenty of bright spots for Hoopa despite the loss, most notably the play of linebackers Rodney Clark, Andrew Hunsucker, Jason Marshall and Kenek Turner.
Bear Little also stepped up his play on the line, alongside the ever-dangerous Gerard Marshall.
Offensively, Davis and Turner both ran the ball well in what the head coach described as a balanced performance.
The Mack JVs also secured a league title with a 38-14 win.
Also in the Little 4 on Friday night, Arcata improved to 3-2 in league play with a 28-26 win over Ferndale.