Defense sets the tone as Wildcats knock off top seeds in NCS playoffs

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The Ferndale Wildcats are headed back to a North Coast Section championship game for the first time since 2019.

On Friday night, they knocked off No. 1 seed Clear Lake 20-12 in Lakeport in the Division-7 semifinal.

It was the second straight week the Cats beat a higher seed on the road and the second straight week they rallied from a halftime deficit.

And once again the Ferndale defense set the tone, holding a high-scoring Cardinals offense out of the end zone all night.

Clear Lake came into the game averaging 47 points in their nine wins this season.

“Our defense is playing extremely well,” head coach Clint McClurg said. “That was an offense that put up a lot of points.”

Both of Clear Lake’s touchdowns came in the first half, the first on the opening kickoff and the second on a scoop and score by junior safety Hank Ollenberger.

But they would need more than that against a Ferndale defense that has now shut out its opponents for six straight quarters.

“Without a doubt, the defense really stepped up,” McClurg said. “The whole defense was really playing selfless. If a kid made a mistake, his buddy was there to pick up the slack. It was an outstanding performance by them.”

Prescott Langer scored Ferndale’s opening touchdown and a Dayton Comer PAT gave them a 7-6 lead going into the second quarter.

However, the home team would respond with Ollenberger’s defensive TD and the Cardinals carried a 12-7 lead into halftime.

The second half, however, belonged to the Cats, who would re-take the lead on a Trent Titus touchdown run, before a long TD run by Tanner Pidgeon and a second Comer PAT put Ferndale up by eight points in the final two minutes.

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The Wildcats started the same five on the offensive line for the second straight game for just the first time all season and the unit helped set the tone in difficult conditions.

“The offensive line played well,” the head coach added. “It was wet and muddy and they really grinded it out.”

One of the Wildcats’ scoring drives ate up seven minutes.

Titus, Langer and Pidgeon did a good job carrying the ball behind the line and all three continue to give their team a potent trio of effective backs.

The No. 5 seeded Wildcats came into the game ranked 22 spots behind the Cardinals in the NCS, according to MaxPreps.

But it’s the Wildcats who are moving on after their third straight win and they will now get a chance to play for a section title.

“It seems like we’re hitting our stride at the right time,” McClurg said.

The win lifted the Cats to 8-4, while the loss for the Cardinals was just their second of the year and they close out the season 9-2.

In the other semifinal, No. 2 seed Willits comfortably beat No. 3 Kelseyvile by a score of 31-7.

The Wolverines will host the Wildcats in next week’s NCS championship.

A win for the Wildcats would give them a 14th all-time section crown and their first since 2012.

“Turkey tastes better when you get to practice that day,” McClurg said.

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