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By Bill Choy

Triplicate Sports Editor

NOVATO - The Del Norte High Warriors varsity football team came tantalizingly close to an upset victory against the Novato Hornets in the third round of the North Coast Section 2A Redwood Empire playoffs in Novato Saturday afternoon.

Unfortunately, Del Norte could not pull out the win, losing 18-14.

Up 14-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, the undefeated Hornets had two interceptions and a fumble. They capitalized by scoring two touchdowns for the victory to go on to the championship game next weekend.

Being up in rural Del Norte County, six to seven hours away from the majority of the NCS teams, respect has been hard to come by at times, for example not receiving high seedings despite good seasons over the years.

On Saturday, the Warriors showed Bay Area fans that they're for real and have built a football power by the way they played toe-to-toe against an NCS powerhouse on their home field. Novato has won 24 straight games and won the NCS 2A crown last year.

After the game, Lewis Nova, head coach of Del Norte, told his players that although it hurts to lose such a close game, they should be very proud of the season and the effort they gave on Saturday.

Last year, Del Norte won its first two playoff games and faced Novato in the third round, losing 58-0.

andquot;We did not give up,andquot; Nova said to his players. andquot;That's not in your heart. We gave them everything we could.andquot;

andquot;It feels good and it doesn't feel good,andquot; Warrior quarterback Chad Freeman said after the game. andquot;We came out ready to play hard,andquot; but the turnovers in the fourth quarter gave the game away.

The Warriors finished the year 12-1 and won the Big 5 Conference for the third straight season.

The Novato team and their fans appeared surprised when Del Norte came out of the gate and played aggressive, not letting the Hornets dominate like they have throughout this year.

While the Hornets moved the ball down the field, the Del Norte defense was able to put the pressure on.

The offense than did the rest when junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman was able to make an amazing grab of a Freeman pass thrown from the Del Norte 23-yard line, and rumble his way down the field for the touchdown with 8:07 left in the first quarter to give the Warriors the 7-0 lead.

While the Hornets scored before the end of the first quarter, the point after was no good. At the half, the Hornets found themselves down 7-6 as a stunned Novato crowd looked up and saw they were down by one.

andquot;We were pressuring them and making the plays we needed to,andquot; Nova said

In the second half, Del Norte was able to keep Novato off the board.

On offense, the Warriors were able to drive down the field and hit pay dirt with 5:03 left in the third when Freeman found an open Hoffman in the end zone for a 17-yard strike, giving Del Norte the 14-7 lead once the point after was made. But in the fourth quarter the momentum bounced back to the Hornets, who took advantage of the turnovers and pulled out the win.

The Warrior fans showed up in force and were loud and vocal supporters throughout the game. The entire visitors section was packed full of blue and gold Del Norters.

Travis Bracket, head coach of Novato, said he was very impressed with Del Norte, giving them credit for their excellent season and the way they almost came away with the victory.

andquot;They're an outstanding program,' he said. andquot;We were just able to make a few nice playsandquot; in the fourth quarter. Bracket added that the win showed the resolve of his team and the way they were able to band together and make clutch plays to win the game.

For complete coverage and photos of Saturday's game, check out the Tuesday edition of The Daily Triplicate.