Robert Husseman, The Triplicate

Out of playoffs, Warriors hope to play spoiler to Arcata'sBig 5 League season

After the Del Norte High football team lost to Fortuna High, 41-40 in overtime, on Oct. 19 at Mike Whalen Field, Warriors head coach Ray Rook gathered his team on the field for the postgame talk.

Normally, that action is reserved for victories. Rook said that he "walked off the field feeling like a winner" despite the crushing nature of the defeat.

He wanted his players to feel that way, too.

"The very first thing I said was, 'I'm so proud of you guys,'" Rook said.

"It was definitely the best fourth quarter we've played all season. We gave ourselves a chance to win. How can you ask for anything more as a coaching staff and as players? I told them, 'Nobody comes back from 28 points down in high school.'"

For a team with a 2-6 overall record (1-4 Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 League), with no shot at the California Interscholastic Federation North Coast Section playoffs, with four consecutive league losses by a combined 20 points, with injuries and slow starts and what-ifs plaguing the team since day one - well, the Warriors don't feel like a fourth-place team in the HDN League.

They have a lot to play for yet.

This Friday night, traveling to the Redwood Bowl at Humboldt State University to face Arcata High (5 p.m. junior varsity, 7:30 p.m. varsity), they intend to show it.

"If we don't want to play these last two games, it's kind of sickening," junior lineman Wade Mayes said. "I think the focus is going to be, we want to win and it screws Arcata."

The Tigers notched a 33-22 win over the Warriors on Sept. 21. Arcata running back Tyler Keil ran for five touchdown passes in the second half - four of 40 yards or more - as Del Norte's 7-0 halftime lead evaporated. (Rook reminded his players in Wednesday's practice that the Tigers "ruined your homecoming" that Saturday.)

Arcata defeated Eureka High at Humboldt State University's Redwood Bowl on Oct.19, 28-12, to win the HDN Big 5 League with a 6-0 conference record (8-1 overall). The victory completed the Tigers' remarkable turnaround from not fielding a varsity football team two years ago to league champions for the first time since 1985.

Del Norte represents Arcata's last regular-season game and an opportunity to achieve a perfect conference record.

"To get a win, we're going to have to play the whole game," junior quarterback Dylan Pease said. "We played them tough in the first half. In the second half..."

Pease's voice trailed off, but the implication was clear.

Arcata represented an atypical Warriors performance in that Del Norte started off on a positive note but faded down the stretch.

"We're kind of a responsive team," Mayes said. "We need someone to do something to us."

"We usually have to get the feel of a team - their speed, their players, the formations they like to run, their tendencies," Pease added.

Coaches and players alike felt strongly about the way they started the Sept. 21 game. This time around, in a hostile environment, in the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Warriors would like to finish the job.

"We want to finish on a positive note with these guys," Rook said, "and not leave anything on the table. If we do that, we'll be fine."

Junior Nathan Porter, a starter at wide receiver and cornerback and Del Norte's kicker, suffered a concussion against the Huskies and will not play against Arcata. Sophomore linebacker Kevin Anderson (undisclosed) is also unavailable.

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