The Del Norte Youth Football program went a perfect three-for-three in the Six Rivers Youth Football playoffs on Sunday, setting up an all-Del Norte AA championship game, while the Del Norte AAA team sits one win away from an undefeated championship season.
Del Norte AA Gold is the No. 1 seed in the bracket and pulled out a 13-6 victory over No. 5 Redwood at Whalen Field in Crescent City.
“It was a really hard-fought game,” said AA Gold head coach Clinton Schaad. “We played this team earlier in the year and it was the exact same score at the end. We went out and made some adjustments this week because they are a very big team size-wise. We moved one of our starting linemen into the backfield to help lead block and that seemed to open things up. It wasn’t a high-scoring game, but we maintained ball control.”
No. 2 Del Norte AA Blue was caught in a defensive battle at Redwood Fields against No. 3 Eureka with their semifinal matchup, tied at 0-0 after the first two quarters of play. The Warriors caught fire in the second half, however, and pulled out a 13-0 victory to set up the all-Del Norte AA title matchup.
“At halftime we told them, ‘Hey, do you want this game?’ They were screaming, ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you want to get to the championship game?’ ‘Yes.’ And they just came out in the second half with guns afire and stuck it to them,” said AA Blue head coach Mark Thogmartin. “I think we only gave up two first downs in the second half, and we actually had two interceptions, too. We also had a really nice touchdown run.”
With the semifinal wins the AA championship game, starting at noon on Sunday at McKinleyville High School, will pit both Del Norte teams against each other for the first time this year.
“It is interesting because some of the kids go to the same schools, and some of them are best friends,” Thogmartin said. “When we are all playing at home they will spend the night at each other’s houses and all sorts of stuff, so it should be fun to see. There is no fear, whereas sometimes they are a little scared of a player on the other team. They know each other so well that there is really no fear.”
But sometimes friends can be even more competitive than rivals, and both Schaad and Throgmartin said they don’t expect to have to work too hard to get their respective teams fired up for the game.
In fact, the psychological posturing is already underway this week as both teams share practice times at Pyke Field, separated by only a chain-link outfield fence.
“Right now they are trying to get a little bit louder than each other, and this is the way it is going to be the whole week,” Thogmartin said at the start of practice on Tuesday as both teams boisterously counted out their stretches during warm ups.
Throgmartin said the last time he coached in an all-Del Norte game, the final score ended up 7-6. Both coaches expect a similarly close battle for the championship.
Del Norte Gold captured the No. 1 seed in the tournament by winning a coin flip against Del Norte Blue after both teams ended with league-leading 6-1 overall records. Both teams have scored exactly 161 points (20.1 points per game) through their first eight games. Del Norte Blue has one of the best defenses in the league this year, allowing just 6.5 points per game. The only team with better defensive stats is Del Norte Gold, which has given up just three points per game.
Though bragging rights will go to the victor of Sunday’s showdown, the simple fact that both teams have made it to the championship game bodes well for the future of football in Del Norte.
“As time progresses, all these boys and girls who are playing for Del Norte should be on the same team in high school,” Schaad said. “So to show that we have two complete squads and both squads making the championship game — as they get older and merge into one team they should have a heck of a football team.”
While Del Norte is assured at least one championship with both teams in the AA finals, the Warriors are also a heavy favorite to take home the AAA crown this season.
Del Norte AAA has dominated teams all season long and continued that trend with a lopsided 41-6 victory over McKinleyville in their semifinal matchup at Whalen Field on Sunday. The touchdown by the Panthers was just the third touchdown of the season given up by Del Norte AAA this year.
“They just played their hearts out,” said Del Norte AAA head coach Sam Schauerman. “They put everything that they had into it. All the kids gave 100 percent effort. We started out a little sloppy, but in the second half the defense got together and made some adjustments. That is one of the things that I really love about this team — their ability to make adjustments. We weren’t covering the backs well in the first half, but in the second half they didn’t move the ball.”
Del Norte’s Caleb Dodson turned in a monster game against McKinleyville in the semifinals with five rushing touchdowns, a receiving touchdown, an interception, and lots of tackles throughout the game.
Although the Warriors were able to put up 41 points in the win, Del Norte often found itself behind the sticks, plagued by numerous penalties throughout the game.
“We usually have one or two penalties per game, but we had a lot of them today,” Schauerman said. “I don’t know if it had to do with the hype of the game, or the crowd, but we harp on fundamentals, so that is something we will work on in practice.”
No. 1 Del Norte AAA will try to have its penalty issues ironed out by 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, when the Warriors kick off against No. 2 Redwood. The Warriors were the only team to beat the Knights this season, topping Redwood 20-7 in week 4 in Del Norte AAA’s closest game so far this year.
“They execute well on offense,” Schauerman said. “They run the spread offense and they are a run and gun team. We like to ground and pound, but they are a big play team and they can hit you. They are always one play away from scoring, so we will harp on our defense to play well and execute.”
Neither of the Del Norte A teams qualified for the playoffs this season. No. 1 Eureka will take on No. 2 Ferndale in the Six Rivers Youth Football A championship game, kicking off at 9:30 a.m. in McKinelyville.
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org.