By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
CRESCENT CITY It was do or die for the Del Norte High varsity football team Friday night.
Down 14-6 to Healdsburg after the first half of play in the second round of the North Coast Section Class 2A Redwood Empire playoffs, head coach Lewis Nova told his players it was their chance to step up and show their character ad determination and come back.
And did they ever, as No. 3 seed Warriors sent the No. 2 seed Greyhounds packing with a 25-14 victory to move within one game of the NCS championship in Oaklandwhich will happen if they defeat the winner of No. seed 1 seed Novato against No. 4 seed Terra Linda, which takes place today.
"Win or go home," Nova told his players after the game. "Dang it, you guys have all the character in the world."
"Our kids rose to the occasion in the second half," Nova added.
The Warriors improved to 11-0 for the year.
Junior Cody Hoffman had a game that could only be described as brilliantwhich may be considered an understatement.
Hoffman had four touchdowns, including a jaw-dropping 67-yard punt return for a touchdown.
He broke free of several pursuing Greyhounds and raced down the sidelines for the score as a breathless and excited Warrior faithful cheered.
When asked what he was thinking when he made the memorable return, Hoffman said, "I don't know. I just ran with my instincts."
"I knew they would be a tough opponent, so I wanted to step up my game," he added. "I just wanted to go out and play hard."
Hoffman commended his teammates for working together as one and striving for the win.
Hoffman had five catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns, 35 yards rushing and one touchdown, and two interceptions on defense.
Several Warriors had big games, including junior Trevor Coulson, who made a clutch catch for a first down late in the game, and junior Tanner Brown, who was a beast on defense, including two and half sacks in the first quarter.
He also put pressure on the quarterback all night.
In the first half, it was truly a clash of the defenses as both units held their opponent's normally explosive offenses at bay.
Del Norte had trouble moving the ball and quarterback Chad Freeman was pressured throughout the first half.
Del Norte came right out of the gate on defense and caused havoc for the Greyhounds, who seemed frazzled by the swarming defense of the Warriors. They controlled the ground game and did not let the passing game get going.
When the ball was thrown, the Greyhounds were blanketed by the Warriors.
Healdsburg is known for an explosive passing offense led by Corey Harms, who threw for 22 touchdowns heading into the game, and wide receiver Jared Garcia, who had 15 receiving touchdowns.
Until 2:19 left in the first half the Greyhounds had -9 passing.
Del Norte got on the board first when Hoffman, on a reverse from the 20-yard line, used his speed to get into the endzone with 11:03 left in the second quarter.
The point after was no good, giving the Warriors the 6-0 lead.
Near the end of the first half, Del Norte lost senior Trevor Rook, the team's leading rusher on offense and a valuable defender as a cornerback due to a hyper- extended knee. He did not return.
The play after Rook went down, Healdsburg got their first first down of the game.
Then the Greyhounds showed their potent passing offense when Harms launched a ball deep downfield to an open Caleb Rummonds for a 57-yard score with 2:05 left. With the point after good, Del Norte faced a 7-6 deficit.
With time clicking off the clock to end the half, Healdsburg got the football back when Garcia intercepted the ball for a 27-yard run to the Del Norte 16.
At five seconds left in the half, Harms connected with Garcia for a 12-yard touchdown to give the Greyhounds a 14-7 lead.
In the second half, with the season on the line, Del Norte came ready to play, starting with the Hoffman punt return with 8:37 left in the third.
With the two-point conversion no good, Del Norte still found itself down 14-12.
In the fourth quarter, the Warriors finally started to pull away.
With 11:50 left, Freeman was able to find time to throw to Hoffman for a 69-yard touchdown pass as the home crowd cheered, knowing the Warriors were on their way to the win.
The two-point conversion failed, giving the Warriors the 18-14 lead.
With 8:48 left in the contest, Freeman found Hoffman again for a 14-yard pass as Del Norte took the 25-14 lead.
The Warrior defense spent the rest of the game shutting down a stunned group of Greyhounds and the Del Norte offense ran the clock down.
They were on the goal line only a few yards away from another score when the clock ran down as elated players rushed the field.
A few grabbed the big cooler of w after and doused Nova in celebration.
The Del Norte defense was solid as a rock, allowing only 38 yards of rushing and 92 yards of passing.
On offense, Del Norte had 116 yards of rushing on 29 carries, and 319 yards of total offense.
Freeman threw for 206 yards on 12-of-22 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Now, the Warriors sit and wait to see who they play on either Friday or Saturday.
If it is Novato, it is something Del Norte has been waiting for since being ousted in the third round of the NCS playoffs by Novato 58-0 on their home field in the Bay Area last year.
Nova said the game should have been played on a neutral field and hopes it will happen this year.
Since the game was played in the Bay Area last year, Nova hopes to play closer to home, perhaps in Eureka, although it's always hard to predict exactly what NCS officials will do.
Del Norte 25, Healdsburg 14
at Del Norte High School
Del Norte .............0 6 6 13
Healdsburg........... 0 14 0 0
11:03 (DN) Hoffman 20-yard run (Bruder extra point no good)
2:05 (H) Harms 57-yard pass to Rummonds (Cattalini extra point good)
:05 (H) Harms 12-yard pass to Garcia (Cattalini iextra point good)
8:31 (DN) Hoffman 67-yard punt return (2-pt conversion failed)
11:50 (DN) Freeman 69-yard pass to Hoffman (2-pt conversion failed)
8:48 (DN) Freeman 14-yard pass to Hoffman (Sampier extra point good)