By Ray Hamill — The Ferndale and Hoopa JVs shared this year’s Little 4 championship in football after a big win for the Wildcats in the season finale at Hoopa recently.
The Cats, who had lost an earlier matchup against the Warriors, won the game 24-22 and both teams finished with identical 5-1 records in conference play.
The earlier loss to Hoopa helped fire up the Ferndale players.
The loss was obviously a disappointment for the Warriors, but they still shared the championship and that will give this group of players some momentum as they get ready to make the jump to varsity next fall.
“They were pretty heartbroken, but I explained to them this isn’t the end by any means,” Hoopa head coach Curtis Kane said. “This is just the start. This is a reflection of how we can play.
“The potential is so high for this team, I’m super excited.”
The Wildcats, who finished the season with a record of 8-2, had to overcome a lot of adversity this fall, including the loss of several players for various reasons, including some key injuries.
But the players who remained with the team — the roster went from 20 at the start of the season to just 13 at one stage — never backed down from the challenge.
“A lot of the kids had to really step up,” said Cook, who questioned whether they would be able to finish the season at one stage. “It was a struggle. We faced a lot of adversity and I’ve got to give a lot of credit to them for stepping up.”
The Ferndale roster was made up mostly of freshmen, but four key sophomores in particular — team captains Tristen Titus, Roland McClurg, Jake Kurwitz and Braeden Rice — helped keep the younger players on track and focused during the difficult times.
“The sophomore leaders stayed positive through the whole thing,” Cook said. “I’ve had a lot of fun with those guys (over the past two seasons). They’re definitely playmakers.”
All of the players who remained with the team for the whole season showed a “lot of heart and determination,” the coach added.
Freshman quarterback Will Shaw also had a good year with the Cats and grew into a team leader as the season progressed.
“He didn’t say a lot at the beginning but he took on a bigger leadership role,” Cook said.
The Cats came into the season finale knowing they needed to win in a tough environment just to share the championship, and they didn’t disappoint.
“The kids stuck together as a team,” Cook said. “They never batted an eye and showed up every day. We had a couple of kids who never played football before and these kids came a long way.”
Hoopa, which won an earlier matchup at Ferndale by a score of 22-6, won seven straight games at one stage and closed out with a record of 7-3.
Kane believes his players will benefit tremendously from the experience they gained this season, and they’ll benefit from playing on a championship team.
“This team, I really think, with some of the (varsity) players that will come back next year, we’re going to be contenders,” he said.
And that’s not the only thing that has Kane excited as he gets set to make the switch to varsity head coach next year.
Over the past two months, the Hoopa offense has developed a potent passing attack, something they have worked hard on.
“Since the beginning of time, Hoopa has been a run-heavy team, but I know that we have the athletes (to pass the ball effectively),” the coach said.
That includes quarterbacks Allen Kane and Carlos Anzoras, the latter of whom also made some big plays at receiver this season.
Allen Kane, in particular, has established himself as one of the better young quarterbacks in the area and he should only continue to grow at the position.
Donald Hostler also had a big year in the offensive backfield and made some key plays running the ball and receiving.
Another key to the success of this year’s team was how well the Warriors defense developed.
After giving up a combined 46 points in their opening two games of the season, the Hoopa D allowed just 32 points over the following seven games.
Hostler, who played youth football in Ferndale, returned to Hoopa this fall and also had a huge impact at middle linebacker, as did teammate Quincy Macdonald at nose tackle.
Hostler was one of his team’s best open-field tacklers and helped inspire his teammates to improve in that aspect of the game.
Freshman Logan Hulbutta, meanwhile, also had a big impact playing defensive back and will be expected to continue to develop and play a key role over the next few years.