The Hoopa Warriors caught the Panthers off guard in a Little 4 football matchup at McKinleyville on Friday night.
Hoopa head coach Floyd “Cowboy” Billings went to a spread offense for the showdown and it worked out well for the visitors, who won the game 28-12.
It was the Warriors’ second league win over the Panthers and lifted them to 2-3 in the Little 4 and 3-6 overall, while McKinleyville dropped to 0-5 and 0-9.
The Warriors also went no-huddle for most of the night and ate up much of the clock with long drives.
The impressive Brandon Romero accounted for three of Hoopa’s four touchdowns, running in for a pair and also throwing a 28-yard TD pass to Trystan Billings.
The junior quarterback caused the Panthers defense problems all night with his scrambling and found the end zone on runs of 68 and 24 yards.
“I decided to spread them out and (Romero) was good at it. He read the game well,” Cowboy Billings said of the athletic junior, who had around 150 yards scrambling. “He got all of his teammates involved on offense.”
Fullback Ian McConnell added a short TD run to round out the scoring.
The victory was achieved with a balanced performance on both sides of the ball by the visitors, with defensive ends Rian Tracy and Kaewett Nelson containing the McKinleyville ground attack for much of the night.
“It was hard for them to get to the outside,” Cowboy Billings said. “Our defense and offense came together and played a good game.”
Trystan Billings had his best game yet for the Warriors and gained some good yards for his team through the air and on the ground, with a couple of key first down conversions.
It’s been a tough season for a very shorthanded McKinleyville team, which had just 13 players suit up and played the entire second half with just 11.
But despite that, the Panthers grew into the game and matched the visitors 6-6 in the second half.
Tyler Marsh scored one of McKinleyville’s touchdowns on a 75-yard run, with sophomore quarterback Ruger Baxter also connecting on a 30-yard TD pass to Leo Cosce.
Baxter was called up from the JVs for the game with the Panthers’ top-two QBs missing the game after being ejected last week.
“He held his ground,” head coach Fel Barlow said of the outside linebacker. “He made a bunch of tackles.”
Another sophomore who was called up for the game, cornerback Walter Morton, also had a big impact with an interception, while the ever-consistent Steven Graves had a big game after switching to middle linebacker to cover for a sick teammate and John Nicholls made some plays at defensive end.
“I was proud of the kids,” Barlow said. “If they had played like that all year, we’d have been okay. They’re learning now. I’m happy for them.”
The young Panthers also featured a pair of freshmen at tackle — Kolby Larsen-willis and Charles Chivrell — and both impressed their coaches with their performances.
“I commend them,” Cowboy Billings said of the Panthers. “They played us hard with the personnel they had.
Next week, Hoopa hosts Ferndale and McKileyville hosts league champion Arcata.
The Hoopa JVs won their matchup against the Panthers 42-8.