The Del Norte football team's North Coast Section Division IV quarterfinal matchup with Justin-Siena went back and forth for nearly 40 minutes, but the last eight minutes in the fourth quarter were dominated by the Warriors, as No. 2 Del Norte advanced into the semifinals with a 37-21 victory over No. 10 Justin-Siena.
"It was a game of two halves," said Del Norte head coach Lewis Nova. "They came out like gangbusters. They had a game under their belt, and they were ready. We came out and kept butting heads early, but in the second half we pulled it together, eliminated some of our mistakes, and we executed. Coach (Kenny) Price went back to that running game, and the lines came through."
Justin-Siena managed to put together a six-minute scoring drive to take a 21-20 lead 90 seconds into the fourth quarter, but Del Norte dominated the game the rest of the way.
The Warriors got the ball back on their own 27 yard line, and on the fourth play of the drive Ethan Price broke loose, taking advantage of a big hole up the middle and some good downfield blocking on a 62-yard run down to the 1 yard line.
"I remember my little brother Kaleb, and I remember Timmy Thompson leading the way," Price said. "I was just following those two and smiling the whole time. It was an amazing thing to have happen, to have my little brother up the field blocking for me kind of touched my heart."
Price said he was pretty surprised when a Braves defender managed to catch him from behind at the 1 yard line, but junior quarterback OJ Calleja put Del Norte back in front with a quarterback sneak into the end zone on the next play. Price then converted the two-point conversion by running the ball in for a 28-21 lead with 8:03 left in the game.
Although the Justin-Siena offense had an answer for each Warrior score up to that point, Del Norte was finally able to make the stops that they needed to put the game away.
On the next possession Del Norte forced the Braves straight back with a sack and a motion penalty to set up a fourth and 14 from Justin-Siena's own 20 yard line. The Braves attempted to punt the ball away, but the snap went over the punter's head and out of the back of the end zone for a safety and a 30-21 lead for the Warriors.
Del Norte also got the possession of the ball following the safety, and proceeded to put the game away.
With 5:59 left, Del Norte went right back to its powerful runshing attack and picked up a first down that forced the Braves to use up their timeouts.
Facing a fourth and one near midfield, Ethan Price once again broke a big run up the middle, and this time he found the end zone himself for a 40-yard touchdown run and a 37-21 lead with just over three minutes remaining.
"I am amazed at how well we fought through it. At halftime we kind of had a situation but we fought through it and came together in the second half," Price said. "We played tougher as a team. In the second half we really took it personally, and in the huddle we did a good job of talking about what was happening — if it was a 50 or a 40 front. We talked about it before we went out there and let the coaches know what formation they were in so we could get a good play off."
The Warriors were particularly effective running the ball, picking up at least 5 yards on nearly every run, seemingly at will. Del Norte finished the game with 40 offensive plays including 37 rushes for 354 yards.
"That really showed how well our offensive line was doing," Nova said. "We also put multiple backs in there, and they block for each other, they run hard, and it paid off. Kobe Mitchell went in there and made plays, like that first down where he just twisted, turned, spun, clawed and stretched to get that first down. That is what you want out of your kids."
Price said he thought one offensive lineman in particular had a heck of a night for Del Norte.
"(Junior center) Luke King was working for us in the run game," Price said. "He called out every single blitz and every formation that we needed. He downed everybody that needed to be downed and he called out all the shots that needed to be taken care of. Luke King was the man for that."
Del Norte's defense also stepped up in the second half. It was the second game in a row that the Warriors have given up some yards and points early in the game before bowing up and shutting down their opponents after halftime.
"We are a staff of adjustments," Nova said. "We want to run what we want to run, and we want to force teams to change to what we are doing. But we will adjust the things that we are doing too, to get better. Again we made some adjustments in the secondary that forced the quarterback to stay in the pocket longer, and we got some sacks."
Price led the Warriors with 11 rushes for 171 yards and a touchdown. He also had Del Norte's only catch of the night for another 31 yards and a touchdown. Sebastian Puente ran the ball 19 times for 105 yards, a touchdown and a two point conversion. Kobe Mitchell also picked up 70 yards on just five carries.
Justin-Siena ended up with 202 yards on 18-25 passing. The Braves ran the ball 27 times for just 19 yards.
With the win, Del Norte advances to the NCS Division IV semifinals, where they will host the winner of the quarterfinal game between No. 6 Fortuna and No. 3 Kennedy. That game has been moved to Monday at 7 p.m.
Due to the late game, the Warriors semifinal game will be played next Saturday in Crescent City.
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org .