Defense lifts Panthers to youth football championship

Submitted photo – The McKinleyville players and cheerleaders celebrate their championship on Sunday.

Apparently defense does win championships.

On Sunday, in Crescent City, the McKinleyville Single-A youth football team defeated Ferndale 19-12 for the Six Rivers Conference championship.

And they won with some outstanding defense, as they have all season.

“We were really built on defense,” head coach Jason Benge said. “Our defense was stellar all year.”

In nine games this season, all of which they won, the young Mack players gave up just 37 points and had a remarkable five shutouts.

On Sunday, however, they had to overcome a tough start against a good Ferndale team.

“It was a rough first quarter. They stopped us on offense and they were very tough on defense,” Benge said. “But the kids responded well. We finally started putting it back together.”

Trailing 6-0 after that opening quarter, the Panthers scored 19 unanswered points and that would prove to be enough for the standout defensive unit.

Even more impressively, this team won the championship with just five returning players on a roster of 22.

“This team was a coach’s dream,” Benge said. “The kids worked hard and it was a fun team to be around. You looked forward to going to practice because they were just good kids who happen to be good football players.”

Colton Hawkes was instrumental in the win, capping a big season with a pair of touchdown runs, with Zane Niehaus also scoring on a 15-yard TD run in the third quarter to break a 6-6 tie.

“Colton was just stellar on both offense and defense,” the head coach said. “He was our team leader.”

Crew Hicks also played a key role for the team at middle linebacker.

“He just set the tone all season with some hard-nosed football,” Benge said.

Trae Florvilus scored for Ferndale on a late 80-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit.

After that, however, the McKinleyville offense was able to run out most of the clock, with the defense appropriately making one final late stop.

One of the game’s key moments came in the second quarter, with McKinleyville trailing 6-0, when Hawkes took a pitch on a fourth-and-16 and completed a pass to Niehaus for a first down.

“That sparked momentum for us,” Benge said.

The Panthers would score a touchdown on the drive to tie the game.

The team also included Bo Battilochi, Maverick Utt, Reece Combs, Cooper Jones, Tatum Brock, Tyler Bradfield, Tanu Alofaituli, AJ Secor, Reylan Benge, Garrison Lockard, Brooklynn Hines, Oren Baugh, Mason Brettuher, Rowdy Furber, Jack Ahrens, Ryot Arneson, Henry Workman, Eli Lockhard and Landen Harris.

Nate Combs, Junior Alofaituli and Ryan Ahrens all coached along with Jason Benge.

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