The Del Norte Warriors answered the call Saturday night.
Down to their third- and fourth-string running backs and with several players forced to play out of position, the Del Norte players responded with a dominating second-half performance to pull away from Arcata at McKinleyville High School on the way to a 38-18 victory.
The Warriors were playing their first game of the season after just three days of practice in the two weeks leading up to the game because of COVID restrictions, and they lost their top two running backs to injury in the opening quarter.
So, head coach Nick White challenged his team at halftime.
“We had a ton of adversity we had to face, and how you come out of it after halftime, that defines what kind of team you are,” said White. “And these kids came out and proved who they are in the second half.
“I think what impressed me most was the kids switching up roles and playing positions they’re not used to, and I think our overall mental toughness throughout the game as well.
“I’m super proud of every kid, because they all played a role and they all came in and contributed.”
The Warriors started fast with two touchdowns in the opening four minutes of the game, the first on a 15-yard run by returning Big 4 Offensive MVP Levi Cox-Cooley and the second on a pick-six by cornerback Isaiah Parsley.
But the momentum quickly slipped away when Cox-Cooley was forced to the sideline after taking a knock to his knee, along with Giancarlo Desolenni (cramps), although the latter would return briefly later.
The Tigers had the better of exchanges for the remainder of the first half, scoring a touchdown and driving deep into Warriors territory late in the second quarter only to see the threat end when Del Norte’s RJ Loftin came away with an interception.
“That was a big one,” White said.
Loftin had a big game on both sides of the ball, also finding the end zone on a 16-yard TD run on Del Norte’s first possession of the second half.
Loftin, however, also took a knock and was limited after his TD run, although it didn’t seem to slow the Warriors, and no matter who they put in at running back they continued to ground out the yards behind a physical offensive line.
Next up was Caleb Dodson, who scored two second-half TDs on runs of 17 and 45 yards, as the Warriors began to exert their dominance.
Arcata scored two late TDs, but the outcome of the game was never really in doubt for much of the second half.
“We came out not really knowing what to expect as far as our lack of practice and not playing a game,” White said. “But the kids came out hard.”
Del Norte’s season-opening performance impressed Arcata head coach Jamal Jones.
“(Del Norte’s) a championship level program and we want to get there,” Jones said. “They’re extremely well-coached, and they’re extremely physical.
“They wore us down with that offense. I think they’re going to wear a lot of teams down with that offense.”
In addition to Dodson, Mike Germain also ran the ball well in the second half, as well as adding an interception at defensive back late in the game, while lineman Sam Schauerman recovered a second-half fumble.
White says he held Cox-Cooley out as a precaution and that he will know more about the injury in a few days.
Next up, the Warriors host Eureka on Friday night. The JVs kick off at 5 p.m., followed by the varsity at 7:30 p.m.