There is a little bit different feel in the air within Mike Whalen Field this week. Although the Del Norte football team has been practicing at the stadium since the end of the regular season, the Warriors finally have a solid opponent and game time after two straight weeks without playing.

“The intensity level is up — now we have a goal and we have an opponent,” said Del Norte head coach Lewis Nova. “The atmosphere just changes because you know now and you aren’t sitting back waiting. The kids are excited. We have been telling the kids, ‘It’s Fortuna. We are 1-1 against each other, and now it is win or go home. We plan on playing next week, so let’s go.’”

And that is just what the team has been doing.

With Humboldt-Del Norte Big 4 foe and NCS Division IV No. 6-seed Fortuna coming to Crescent City with an upset of the second seed on their minds, the Warriors went right back to work.

“The tempo is up a lot,” said senior Ethan Price. “Coach is on our tail because we don’t want to mess anything up — we want to be the best that we can. This is a big game for us because if we can beat Fortuna then we have a chance to win NCS.”

Although practices have picked up the pace this week, Nova said Del Norte did its best to make the most of back-to-back bye weeks coming just one game after a first-round bye.

“They have been attentive. It has been another obstacle, another delay, but we have dealt with them,” Nova said. “We have had a set pattern of what we have been doing in coming to practice, getting them out a little early but being intense during that time frame. We have dealt with those, and now the reward is we have an opponent and we have a date and time for our next game.”

Although the team has spent some time scouting both of its possible opponents over the past two weeks, the biggest benefit to the team has been having the extra time together.

“It’s been a good bonding time,” said junior Kobe Mitchell. “These past two weeks we have just been working on our stuff and now we are getting down to business because we have a game this weekend against Fortuna. So we have to get to it.”

“Our team has gained a lot of respect for each other,” Price added. “Even though we have had three weeks off of games, the 30 guys that are out here have all stuck with it and didn’t have a desire to quit. We have hung together, bonded with each other, and we have become more one as a team.”

Del Norte did spend a little bit of time going over scouting reports of both Kennedy and Fortuna for the past two weeks, but in reality the Huskies and the Warriors don’t have many secrets from each other as they head into their third and final meeting of the year.

Fortuna got the better of Del Norte in the first meeting of the year — a 62-32 win for the Huskies in a non-league game in Fortuna. The Warriors were able to rebound three weeks later for a 49-42 victory over Fortuna in Crescent City in the HDN Big 4 opener for both teams.

“We have to play like we have been playing in our last few games — we have to be physical,” Nova said. “It is just a matter of being physical and executing. We have been pretty consistent with keeping our penalties down recently, and we have to make sure to keep that up. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot.”

There is a possibility that rust may play a factor for Del Norte, especially early on in their first game in three weeks and just their second game in five weeks. While timing is always important for any team, the Warriors hope that their physical style of play will be evident right from the opening kickoff.

“It is just something we have,” Mitchell said. “We are a tough team and we are just going to come out and hit — that’s what we do.”

If anything, the long layoff has Del Norte even more excited to get back to hitting.

“It has given me the want to go kill somebody and hit them,” Price said. “Not playing football for three weeks kind of makes me angry. It will be good to take off some stress and hit somebody. I think we are ready to show these guys how strong and tough we are.”

The game will likely come down to more than just physical toughness, however, as Fortuna boasts a rather powerful squad as well.

“We are a carbon copy of each other, so it will come down to who is going to come out, make the fewest mistakes and be consistent,” Nova said. “It is also going to be a sloppy field, so whoever adjusts the fastest will have an upper hand. It is home field for us, so we need to be the team that strikes first, and then we will go from there.”

Although the Warriors have faced a lot of unique challenges so far this season, Saturday’s game may be the first rain game of the season for Del Norte. Even if the rain isn’t falling during the contest, the field will likely be wet.

“It will be a big factor, even as you go through the week and get used to the field and the wetness — because it is going to rain continuously,” Nova said. “But you throw in a little bit of adrenaline and take a little bit wider step on Saturday and all of the sudden you are on your butt instead of making a tackle, or you are gaining 2 yards instead of 7 yards. The adrenaline factor will be a key to how we perform, but we just need to keep moving forward and be aggressive.”

Although the winner of Saturday’s semifinal showdown will advance on to the North Coast Section Division IV quarterfinal game, there is a real possibility that it will be the last game of the season for the winning team, as well as the losing team.

In fact, that chance may be exactly 50 percent.

Due to the delays caused by the wildfires near the Bay Area, the NCS no longer has enough time to finish out its Division IV bracket prior to the NorCal Regional Final, currently scheduled for next week.

The NCS has announced that it will be up to the coaches of the two teams that reach the finals to decide how to proceed. If both coaches agree to skip the NorCal game in favor of playing for a true NCS Championship, that game would be played instead and the NCS would forfeit its spot in the California Interscholastic Federation State Playoffs.

If either team’s coach wishes to proceed to the CIF Tournament then the NCS Championship game will be determined by criteria. The first criteria — head-to-head competition — cannot be applied given the two semifinal match ups, so in that situation the NCS Division IV Champion, and its representative in the CIF Tournament would be determined by a coin flip.

No. 1 Moreau Catholic and No. 4 San Marin will play the other semifinal game on Friday, kicking off at 7 p.m. in Hayward.

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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