The Del Norte High football team is headed to the North Coast Section playoffs for the third time in coach Ray Rook's four years at the Warriors helm.
Del Norte (4-6) received the No. 11 seed in Division 4's 13-team playoff. The Warriors travel to Napa today to take on NCS Division 4 defending champion Justin-Siena (6-4), the No. 6 seed, with the kickoff at 7 p.m.
"It is a good place to be," Rook said. "We are happy with it. We are happy that the kids can have the extra opportunity and that some of their hard work paid off. We just want to go down there and see if we can make something happen."
The Warriors' two previous trips to the North Coast playoffs ended in first round losses. The No. 11 seed is the highest the team has had under Rook. It is also Del Norte's first year in Division 4 after competing as one of the smallest schools in Division 3 in Rook's first three seasons.
"It kind of gives you a little bit of hope," Rook said of the move. "We feel like we can maybe go down there and get a win and compete."
The Warriors will still face a difficult task in Napa, however.
"They are a very well-coached team," Rook said. "I have actually listened to (head coach Rich Cotruvo) in clinics. He is a good coach, a veer coach and they are a Catholic school, so they are very disciplined in what they do."
Defensively, Del Norte will need to slow down the Justin-Siena rushing attack first.
"They are an option team, so we have to defend the option well," Rook said. "They have a pretty good offensive line that looks to be the strength of their team. So we need to neutralize that via game plan and the kids doing their job."
Offensively, Del Norte is a work in progress.
"Offensively, we are not quite to where we need to be to win big games yet," Rook said. "We haven't been all year. If we have had an Achilles' heel, that would be it. Over the past three weeks we have been trying to put something into the offense to try to help that. We are trying to help the kids get better and get faster. Hopefully that will help us. I know it has given the kids and the coaching staff confidence."
The Warriors' offense also received a big confidence boost in the regular season finale against winless Arcata. Del Norte put up 55 points before halftime and scored nearly at will against the Tigers with the starting unit.
"We started getting into some of this stuff to quicken the offense up, that is the key to all of this," Rook said. "Obviously, going out and using it in a real game the other night and having success with it was fun.
"We looked at film and the kids were able to say, 'This is working for us and we have kind of got this down.' We have been able to refine it further this week and hopefully we can go down and make it work against a playoff opponent. That is easier said than done, though."
Del Norte has also been working with the special teams, hoping that they may provide an edge.
"We know that we are going to have to make a play on special teams somewhere along the way to beat a team like that,"Rook said.
Del Norte will also have to deal with a longer-than-normal road trip. The Warriors leave for Napa this morning. Del Norte already has a little experience in that regard, however. The Warriors opened the season with a trip to Cottonwood, ending in a 49-0 loss to West Valley. In week three, Del Norte took on Shasta, falling 29-12.
"We think that we have prepared ourselves for the trip, being that we played our two road games out of town over in the northern section," Rook said. "They were long trips, playing in the heat and playing two tough opponents. We tried to use that as a building block to show us that we can do it. I thought at times we played well in both games, and in the second game we played really well and gave ourselves a chance to win."
The Warriors are hoping to put themselves in a similar situation today.
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org.