The Ferndale Wildcats completed the season sweep of league rivals Arcata and secured at least a share of their first Little 4 title in six years on Saturday, but they’re not done yet.
Ferndale took full advantage of some Arcata miscues and played some stellar defense on the way to a 27-6 win, improving to 4-0 in league play with two games remaining.
All three of their Little 4 rivals have at least two losses, meaning the Cats need just one more win against either Hoopa or McKinleyville to win the title outright for the first time since 2012.
And that’s something head coach Clint McClurg and his players will be eager to achieve.
“Our young men knew this was a big game, and we won and we accomplished a goal,” head coach Clint McClurg said, “kind of.”
McClurg’s message is clear. The Cats want the title outright.
On Saturday, they certainly played like it, particularly on defense.
They got some help from a beat-up Arcata team that had two very costly early turnovers, which led to the only two touchdowns of the first half.
The Tigers coughed up possession on the opening kickoff to Ferndale’s Landon Gomes, who ran to the end zone for the opening score.
Gomes was at it again midway through the second quarter, taking an interception 20 yards to the end zone, and the Cats led 14-0 at the half.
“Landon Gomes, what a playmaker? And I’m talking defense,” McClurg said of the senior standout, who has had a pick six in three consecutive seasons. “That’s just Landon Gomes making plays like he always does.”
Gomes wasn’t alone, and the Cats held a potent Arcata offense to just one touchdown on the day, with Colton Renner continually causing havoc in the Tigers’ backfield.
Joe Genzoli also had a huge game defensively for the home team, as did the ever reliable Dominc Regli, who has hardly set a foot wrong all year.
“Our defense really played well,” McClurg said.
Nico Alejandre added a fumble recovery and Javier Lopez had an interception in the end zone, with the Tigers turning the ball over four times in the opening two quarters alone.
Injuries haven’t helped matters for the Tigers, who were without a number of starters and have several other players beat-up right now.
“We had just a ton of mistakes, but the way football seasons go you’ve got to be healthy at the right time, and unfortunately for us we’re not healthy at the right time, and they are,” Arcata head coach Jamal Jones said.
The Wildcats stretched their advantage on a one-yard Lane Branstatter TD run midway through the third quarter to lead 20-0, before a fumble recovery by Arcata’s Stone Boyer led to the Tigers’ only score of the game, a five-yard TD run by Everett Halikas.
The score was set up by a pair of big plays on the drive, a 12-yard completion from quarterback Mathew Robinson to Hayden Santsche on a fourth-and-five, as well as a 35-yard Niko Zambas reception.
Robinson also had an 86-yard completion to Alberto Iskra late in the first half, as the receiver broke free down the sideline to give the Tigers a first-and-goal at the Ferndale eight-yard line.
An interception by Lopez in the end zone on the following play saw the opportunity end in disappointment, and overall the Arcata pass attack never found a consistent rhythm.
DJ Albee closed out the scoring on a two-yard TD run in the final minute of the game, as the Cats drove effectively over the final five minutes of the game to kill off any potential comeback.
“We’ve got to get healthy and win the next couple of games to put us in position for the playoffs,” Jones said.
Jack Baca was one of the bright spots for the Tigers with some nice plays.
With the loss, the Tigers are now 2-2 in league and 4-4 overall, while the Cats improved to 6-2 overall.
Ray Hamill writes at humboldtsports.com, where you can read lots more about sports in Humboldt County.