Del Norte Gold held off a late challenge by Del Norte Blue in the Six Rivers Youth Football AA championship game in McKinleyville on Sunday, capturing the championship with a 13-0 victory over their future high school teammates on the Blue team. That turned out to be the only youth football title for the Warriors as Del Norte AAA came up a little short in its championship game, falling 30-18 to Redwood in the Warriors AAA team’s first loss all season.

“We won the championship game, which is great, but it was a whole season of working and building,” said Del Norte Gold head coach Clinton Schaad. “We are 14 weeks into it now and the kids have gotten better week after week. We are not the same team that came out in the first week of the year, and AA Blue got better all year, too. That is what you want to see.”

Del Norte Blue had a little adversity, both before and shortly after the opening kickoff.

“Late in the week we thought we had a chance to get our starting quarterback back, but he is in a cast, then our starting center got his hand stepped on in the first play of the game,” said Del Norte Blue head coach Mark Thogmartin. “Those aren’t excuses though, some of our kids just didn’t play as well as they can, and I think it was nerves. We have a lot of first-year players and the kids were really shaking before the game. Gold played their hearts out and they had a good game plan.”

Del Norte Gold took the opening kickoff and marched about 50 yards downfield before quarterback Ben Borges slipped into the end zone with a five yard touchdown run to put the Gold team ahead 6-0, and Gold never looked back.

“That was important. Getting that first drive in and scoring a touchdown really builds momentum and it got our side really excited,” Schaad said. “They got their shot at it and we were able to hold them and get the ball back. That was a big momentum swing.”

After picking up a stop, Gold got the ball back at its own 47 yard line and put together another nice drive, capped by a 12 yard touchdown run up the middle by Colton Schaad for a 13-0 lead.

“Both teams played hard the whole time. You could see there at the end Blue was trying to score and they were throwing the ball and running the ball. They didn’t give up or roll over. They are a good football team and they worked really hard.”

After gold’s second touchdown, both defenses took over the game with only about 30 yards of total offense in the last five drives before halftime.

After halftime, both teams went four-and-out with their first possession, but Blue put together a nice drive midway through the third quarter to claim strong field position for the rest of the half.

Del Norte Blue’s drive lasted over seven minutes. Blue appeared to cut Gold’s lead in half early in the fourth quarter with a touchdown run on first and goal from the five, but a holding call on the play stalled the drive and preserved Gold’s 13-point advantage.

Del Norte Blue had another couple chances to score late in the game after getting the ball back at the Gold 30 yard line with 2:03 left to play, but the Gold defense was able to preserve its shutout.

“Hats off to the kids, of course, and to all my other coaches,” Schaad said. “They did a great job of helping us out. My assistants cover for me if I am running late and they do a great job. All of them work just as hard as I do. I also want to thank all the parents for getting the kids to practice on time, it is a big commitment from them.”

Schaad said he thought his Gold team’s overall depth was a big reason the team was able to win the championship this year.

“We were able to sub kids in and out without missing a beat,” Schaad said. “Everybody on our team knows their positions, so we were able to give kids a rest if they needed a breather or just needed a sub for some reason.”

After the game ended and awards had been handed out, both Del Norte teams came together at the 50 yard line for a double-Del Norte breakdown.

“I can’t be more proud of the kids on both sides,” Thogmartin said. “That was the point that we made when we pulled them all together in the middle of the field. I told them that the last time there was a championship game with Del Norte Gold and Blue playing against each other, we saw that team last year on the varsity and they were undefeated in the league and went to the (NCS) playoffs.”

The Del Norte AA players may not need to wait until high school to be on the same team, however. Del Norte is considering combining its Blue and Gold teams into an All-Star team for an exhibition game against the Coos Bay All Stars next weekend.

After the AA championship, another Del Norte team took the field against Redwood for the AAA championship.

Del Norte AAA, like Del Norte AA Blue, was not quite at 100 percent to start the championship contest, and things got worse on the first play of the game.

Del Norte AAA head coach Sam Schauerman said star running back and linebacker Caleb Dodson, who scored six touchdowns in the semifinals, was sick on Sunday. Then Schauerman’s son Sam Schauerman, one of the team’s top pass rushers and Dodson’s primary lead blocker, was lost for the game due to an injury on the first play from scrimmage.

“(Dodson) is our workhorse on offense and he gave us everything that he had, throwing up in between plays and everything,” Schauerman said. “Another big loss for us was Sam (Schauerman) on the very first play — I hope he didn’t pull his hammy, but he said he heard something pop.”

Although the Warriors were able to bounce back from the setbacks and fight neck and neck with Redwood until the final whistle, Schauerman said he felt like he should have had his team better prepared when things went wrong.

“I don’t want to blame anybody, because it is on me. We didn’t have our pass rush, and we couldn’t run our full offense,” Schauerman said. “We were kind of stuck with running three or four plays. That is on me as a coach. I should have had the next man up better prepared for the full offense. But we get that figured out in practice before we go to Santa Rosa.”

Redwood took the opening kickoff of the game and drove down the field with a couple big plays to take a quick 8-0 lead in the AAA title game, but Del Norte was able to answer right back.

The Warriors drove about 60 yards on its first possession, capped by a one yard touchdown run by Dodson to pull within 8-6 after the extra point bounced off the right upright.

Del Norte AAA’s defense was then able force Redwood into a turnover on downs to get the ball back and Dodson gave the Warriors the lead after he got behind the Knights defense, where quarterback Hunter Giddings hit him in stride for a 35 yard touchdown and a 12-8 lead.

Redwood managed to strike back after halftime with a drive aided by passes of 40 and 20 yards before getting into the end zone with a four yard run for a 16-12 lead.

Once again the Warriors were able to answer right back when Giddings found receiver Ben Davis behind the Kinghts secondary for a 50-yard pass and catch and an 18-16 lead.

Redwood drove the ball into Warrior territory but Giddings was able to recover a fumble for the Knights to snuff out the drive.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, however, the Warriors gave the ball right back with a fumble in the shadow of their own end zone that set the Knights up with 1st and 10 at the Warriors’ 13 yard line.

Redwood finally retook the lead in the fourth quarter with a 7 yard touchdown run with 6:20 left in the game, and the Knights were able to put a big damper on the Warriors comeback hopes by recovering the ensuing onside kick.

With Del Norte pressing to try to force a turnover, Redwood was able to tack on an insurance touchdown on a 22 yard run with 36 seconds remaining to wrap up the win.

The loss is the first of the season for Del Norte AAA, and unfortunately it came in the league championship. The Warriors game will not be the last of the season for Del Norte AAA however. The Warriors have been selected to compete in a regional tournament put on by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Santa Rosa on Dec. 1–3.

Schauerman said Del Norte will hopefully be able to learn from their lone setback of the season and come back even stronger in its next chance for a championship.

“We have to fight through adversity. It is about how they bounce back,” Schauerman said. “It is hard to go undefeated throughout the entire season, as dominant as we have been. We had some adversity and we made it close until the end.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com.

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