Postseason run ends with 21-20 loss to Fortuna
The kick was low and a little to the right, but Fortuna’s point after attempt on its third touchdown snuck just over the crossbar and inside the right upright to give the Huskies a 21-20 lead.
“I thought he had missed it,” Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow told the Fortuna radio broadcast after the game.
That ended up being all Fortuna needed to pull off its 12th straight victory over Del Norte on Friday night in the semifinals of the North Coast Section Division 4 playoffs.
The No. 11 Warriors surprised the NCS by winning two road playoff games, but the magic finally ran out against Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 rival No. 2 Fortuna.
“We played so hard. I am so proud of this team,” said Del Norte head coach Ray Rook. “They did a monumental job of coming down here and competing like they did against a great Fortuna team.”
The Warriors were led once again by a strong defensive performance, holding the Huskies under 100 yards rushing until near the end of the fourth quarter.
“The defense played their hearts out, and that is what got us here,” Rook said. “We did what we wanted to do offensively, too. We picked up some first downs and converted when we had to. We kicked some field goals and gave ourselves a chance to win.”
The Huskies struck first in the first quarter, picking off a pass by Del Norte quarterback Stevie Maready that bounced off the hands of sophomore receiver Austin Healy. The next play, Fortuna connected on a 39-yard touchdown pass and took a 7-0 lead.
The Warriors answered back with a pair of field goals in the second quarter. Junior kicker Jon Calderon connected on kicks of 33 and 41 yards to bring Del Norte within a point of the No. 2 seed.
Del Norte grabbed its first lead of the night with 1:40 left in the first half. The Huskies ran a pitch around the right side when the ball carrier was hit by several Warriors and lost control of the football. Maready was able to scoop up the football and glided 25 yards untouched into the end zone.
“That was just me praying on the sideline,” Rook joked. “Right before that happened, I said, ‘We need a turnover,’ and it happened. The football gods smiled on us that one time. It was just the kids playing hard and competing like they do.”
Calderon’s streak of 23-straight extra points was snapped on the ensuing PAT.
That exchange woke up the Huskies offense, who had only gained one first down since the touchdown pass. Fortuna rumbled 65 yards in less than 2 minutes to regain a 14-12 lead heading into halftime.
The Del Norte defense came up big in the second half with Zach Taylor recovering another Fortuna fumble midway through the third quarter at the 5 yard line. Maready ran the ball into the end zone and Jackson Evans took a handoff around the left side of the line for the 2-point conversion.
The Huskies drove the ensuing kickoff 65 yards, scoring on the first play of the fourth quarter on fourth and goal from the 3 yard line. The ensuing extra point kick was anything but pretty, but it was good for one point, and that is all the Huskies needed.
The remaining 11:55 was an all-out struggle as Del Norte tried to edge back into the lead, but Fortuna was able to hang on for a trip to the NCS championship game.
The loss ends Del Norte’s season at 6-7 overall. Although they finished below .500, the coaching staff told the players after the game that they have a lot to be proud of.
“I am going to remember their sheer perseverance,” Rook said. “These kids have persevered through anything and everything. We had a 3-6 record at one point and we had such a tough schedule, but they just came out and competed.
“They are the funnest group of kids I have ever been around. We play hacky sack for fun — we had three or four hackey sacks out today. I love them, and I am going to miss that.”