It was the first rain game of the season for both No. 2 Del Norte and No. 6 Fortuna on Saturday in the semifinals of the North Coast Section Division IV playoffs. Although turnovers troubled both teams in the early going, the visting Huskies were able to take advantage of the Warriors’ mistakes with 21 points off of turnovers, which helped Fortuna to a 30-6 victory in Crescent City.
“We just didn’t play our best game, and Fortuna did,” said Del Norte head coach Lewis Nova. “They jumped on us early and with the weather we struggled to get back into it. We talked about taking care of the rock earlier, but we missed a few things and they capitalized on it. Once we got behind we had to kind of get out of our realm a little bit and had to push some things. Kudos to Fortuna. Good luck to them.”
A light drizzle started to fall at Mike Whalen Field during the playing of the National Anthemn, and by the time Del Norte kicked the ball off to Fortuna to start the game it had turned into a downpour. The rain continued, and was joined briefly by hail, for the first six minutes of the first quarter before clearing up for the rest of the half. Precipitation returned at halftime, however, and continued throughout the second half.
During the first stretch of rain Fortuna went on a game opening drive and made it near the edge of the red zone before fumbling a handoff, which Del Norte junior Kobe Mitchell recovered to give the Warriors possession.
With the rain still falling, Del Norte ended up getting stripped on a run of its own on the very next play, however, and the Huskies recovered the ball to regain possession at the Warriors’ 25 yard line.
Fortuna punched it into the end zone with a touchdown from 15 yards out just a few plays later for a 7-0 lead.
A holding penalty by Del Norte on the ensuing kickoff left the Warriors to start their next drive at their own 8 yard line. After a first-down run was stuffed, Del Norte couldn’t control a pitch in the rain. Although the Warriors recovered the fumble, they did so in the end zone, resulting in a safety for Fortuna and a 9-0 Huskies lead.
Late in the first half, the turnover bug bit the Warriors once again. Facing fourth and 10 from their own 12 yard line, Del Norte tried to punt the ball away but the Warriors couldn’t control a low snap and Fortuna eventually picked up the loose ball within half a yard of the Del Norte goal line.
The Warriors stuffed the Huskies for minus 2 yards on three straight runs, but Fortuna completed a 3-yard pass for a touchdown just 34 seconds before halftime to take a 16-0 lead into the break.
After halftime the rain was back, but Del Norte started to find its footing offensively. In the second drive of the half the Warriors’ running game started to gain traction as the team drove 51 yards for its only score of the game.
Quarterback OJ Calleja capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge to cut Fortuna’s lead to 16-6 after a failed 2-point conversion with two minutes left in the third quarter.
The Warriors’ defense continued its strong play, forcing a three-and-out by the Huskies to give Del Norte a chance to pull back within two scores.
Del Norte drove the ball almost 40 yards and into Fortuna territory before a holding penalty stalled out the drive.
That turned out to be the Warriors’ last best hope to close the gap.
Fortuna connected with its biggest play of the game, a 43-yard pass, three plays later and got back into the end zone shortly thereafter with a 4-yard touchdown run for a 23-6 lead with 3:23 remaining.
Del Norte got the ball back, but fumbled the ball once again, which Fortuna was able to scoop and score for the final 30-6 margin with 2:51 remaining.
“I’m proud of my kids. We came back and we never gave up — even through the hail that hit,” Nova said. “We just missed on some scoring opportunities that hurt us, and they capitalized on those.”
Although the season ended in a loss, the Warriors matched the best playoff run in school history by making it to the NCS Division IV semifinals.
“There are tears for the loss, but we lost in the semis. They have a bright future,” Nova said.
Nova said although players were disappointed after the game, the team was provided a little bit of perspective in their postgame huddle.
“I told them that football is football. We had a lady at the game that wanted a football signed for her husband who is not feeling very well,” Nova said. “It reminds us that you reach out and you touch so many people’s lives — not just on the football field. This is a game, and we are sad. But we will wake up tomorrow morning and there is that guy that has followed us all season. The teammates and friendships you’ve made are things that you will have for the rest of your life. You can put that in your pocket and take it wherever you go.”
Del Norte finished the 2018 season with a 9-3 overall record. Although the Warriors were hoping to play one more game this season, Nova was struck by how far the team has come since a 3-7 finish, including two wins by forfeit last season.
“We are looking at the growth. Last year we were the boys from Del Norte and now we are the men from Del Norte,” Nova said. “We made it to the playoffs and the semifinals this year, and it is another thing that you have to learn — how to compete at those levels. This time we just couldn’t answer the bell right off the bat, but maybe next year. There is a lot of things coming back next year.”
Nova believes that if this year’s loss to Fortuna can have a similar effect as the team’s overall struggles last year there is no telling what the 2019 Warrior football team can accomplish.
“This feeling that they have now is not a good taste in their mouth,” he said. “Last year didn’t leave a good taste in their mouths either, and this is how far we have come since then. So now lets see how they can build for next year.”
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org .