The Little 4 got off to a flying start at the Redwood Bowl on Friday night, with Arcata and Ferndale serving up a thriller to kick off conference play.
The two teams combined for 11 touchdowns in a back-and forth affair, including a dramatic fourth quarter that saw the Cats take the lead on a five-yard Lane Branstetter TD run with a little over a minute remaining.
Landon Gomes scored three touchdowns for the visitors, including a 90-yard kickoff return during a wild 65 seconds in the third quarter that resulted in 23 points scored.
Trailing 23-14 midway through the period, the Tigers put up 16 points on a pair of Kien Mazzotti TDs and two point conversions in just 50 seconds to take a 30-23 lead.
Raven Perez recovered a fumble to set up the second of these quick TDs.
But just as it seemed as if the momentum had swung firmly in Arcata’s favor, Gomes and the Cats took it right back on the ensuing kickoff.
“When the momentum swung its bat, we really answered the call,” Ferndale head coach Clint McClurg said. “And that’s huge in terms of the character of this team. And it happened multiple times.”
Both teams answered the call.
After Gomes had tied the game on the kickoff return, the Tigers immediately marched downfield again, with a 50-yard reception by Mazzotti giving his team a first and goal.
A fumble on the ensuing play gave the ball back to the Cats, who marched 89 yards to take the lead again on a short Gomes TD run early in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers responded themselves, when quarterback Mathew Robinson connected with receiver Niko Zambras on a 16-yard TD pass with three minutes remaining.
The Tigers then went for two and Mazzotti found the end zone to give them a 38-37 lead.
Once again, however, the Cats answered the call, with a big gain on a Nico Alejandre reception setting up Branstetter’s winning TD.
“It was really nice to see our passing game evolve,” McClurg said. “We definitely utilized a lot of play action against their aggressive defense, and (QB) Jenner Christiansen made a lot of smart decisions.”
Tristen Martin again was huge in the passing game for the visitors, with several big catches at tight end, as was receiver Javier Lopez, who had two touchdown receptions from Christiansen.
Zambras also had two TD catches for the home team, while Robinson scored on a quarterback sneak in the second quarter.
Log on to Humboldt Sports later on Saturday for lots more on this game.
Ray Hamill writes at humboldtsports.com, where you can read lots more about sports in Humboldt County.