Wildcats beat Huskies, advance to NCS title game; face No. 1 Salesian this Saturday evening

Mark Lourenzo

Beacon Correspondent

Those opportunistic Ferndale Wildcats, they did it again! Those big play in the big game, momentum stealing Cats pulled off a good one over their long time rival, the Fortuna Huskies. In a first ever North Coast Section post-season meeting between Ferndale and Fortuna on the football field, it was the Cats who conjured some magic and the results left the Husky faithful collectively shaking their heads after last Saturday's semifinal game at Coach Carlson Field. With their 27-17 win over the Huskies, the Wildcats move on to the Division 4 Championship game versus Salesian to be held this Saturday evening at Alhambra High School.

A first ever Milk Can playoff game have you, last Saturday's meeting between Fortuna and Ferndale was cause for a big time case of butterflies. The Huskies had their problems early in the game handling the ball despite perfect weather in the Cream City. Fortuna saw five loose balls in the first quarter and a half however, they did not lose possession to Ferndale on any of those mishaps. They did, however, lose their first possession of the game to an interception by Ferndale's Jacoby Hughes as the Huskies neared midfield.

That turnover stopped the Huskies initial drive of the game but the Wildcats were unable to do much offensively and punted the ball back to Fortuna. The Huskies next possession was stymied by a quarterback sack by Wyatt Townsend and his Wildcat teammates. Ferndale started their next possession once again near midfield and used two big plays to jump out to an early lead. A 40-yard gallop by runningback Justin Lang preceeded a 16-yard pass by Ferndale quarterback Travis Rye to back Kaden Zanone for a touchdown. A Lang PAT kick gave Ferndale a first quarter 7-0 lead.

After the first period feeling out process and the quick score by the Cats, the Huskies got down to business doing what they do best, playing Ka-chuck football. Fortuna possessed the football for 15-plays as the 1st quarter came to an end and well into the 2nd quarter however, the Huskies came up empty. Facing a 4th and 1 as they neared the Ferndale redzone, a loose ball caused a loss of yards instead of a big first down conversion and the Cats took over possession.

Ferndale gained a first down but their subsequent drive stalled and they once again punted to Fortuna. A bobble of the snap on the punt proved huge and instead of backing up the Huskies into their own end of the field, Fortuna gained 1st and 10 at the Wildcat 35 yardline. The Huskies seized the opportunity, moved to the Wildcat goalline and quarterback Brady Shaha pushed across the 3-yard touchdown. A J.R. Reynosa PAT kick tied up the game at seven apeice and the huge crowd in attendance caught their breath to realize, it was game on!

Ferndale had their ensuing possession go three and out and suddenly it was Fortuna that had all the momentum. Taking good field position, Fortuna marched down to a scoring opportunity as the clock was winding down in the first half of play. The Ferndale defense stiffened and the Huskies settled for a 19 yard field goal by J.R. Reynosa as time expired in the half. As good of a season that Reynosa had for the Huskies it almost seemed right that his leg would win a big one for Fortuna, but we still had a half to play out.

As the 3rd quarter commenced Ferndale received the kickoff and looked to sieze the momentum but instead went backwards as they sputtered on their first few plays. Just when it seemed the Huskies had the Wildcats on the ropes, Ferndale pulled off two game-changing plays that turned it all around. Facing a 3rd and 23 at the Ferndale 29 yard line, Wildcat quarterback Travis Rye hit a streaking Kyle Chambers in the hands with a perfect pass at midfield and Chambers sprinted all the way to the Husky endzone.

The Cats regained the lead but were not done yet as the ensuing kickoff brought another huge game-changing play. Rather than kicking long, the Cats kicked to the sideline mid-depth and a charging Chris Catana delivered a hit to the Husky returner just after the ball made contact. The loose ball was recovered by Ferndale's Kaden Zanone and the Cats were back in business. Mixing the pass and the run, the Cats cashed in with Zanone's 2 yard stretch to the goalline. A Justin Lang PAT kick made it 20-10 midway through the 3rd period.

Fortuna would go on to possess the football for just four offensive plays in the period and soon the Huskies were punting back to the Wildcats. Taking a page out of the Huskies playbook, the Wildcats went on to possess the ball for 15 plays as the game moved into the final quarter. The Cats once again mixed the pass and the run brilliantly and a quick pitch to runningback Justin Lang got outside the Husky defense and a 8-yard touchdown run put the Cats up by 17 points.

After an exchange of possessions, Fortuna was in desperation mode as the Ferndale momentum had all but put the game away with their twenty unanswered points. Ferndale stopped one Fortuna drive with three minutes left in the game but turned the ball over on the next play. Husky lineman Tyler Graham recovered a fumble and the Huskies playing for pride mounted one last drive as the clock wound down. Quarterback Brady Shaha pushed across a 1-yard touchdown with :55 left to play in the game. After the Huskies onside kickoff attempt failed it took a couple of plays for the Wildcats to end the game and start the celebration.

The loss ended a break-out season for the Fortuna Huskies, one that saw them win 11 games and capture a Big Five Conference title. Outstanding seniors Brady Shaha and Zach Cahill each eclipsed two thousand all-purpose yards for the team. The rise of the Husky defense, the line play on both sides of the ball and third offensive weapon Tyrol Chamberlain made the Huskies way more than the Sha-Hill combination. It would not be a stretch to say that a Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow would make for a terrific choice for Co-Coach of the Year in the North Coast Section, that is coupled with rival Ferndale head coach Kim Jorgensen.

The Ferndale Wildcat defense held Fortuna's main weapons way below their potential as the run oriented Huskies gained just 150 yards on the ground. It took the Huskies 25 attempts to gain 120-yards through the air, not that the Wildcats numbers were that much better. It all came down to big plays, oh those big plays and the Wildcat timing was the difference. Ferndale quarterback Travis Rye had a huge game as he directed the Wildcat offense. Throwing 14-passes and completing 7, Rye put 162-yards and 2-touchdowns in the books.

Ferndale's Justin Lang gained close to the century mark on the ground taking the pressure off an injured Kaden Zanone as the usual workhorse for the Cats. Nursing a banged-up shoulder, somehow a less than 100 percent. Zanone was still good enough, as he was part of some big plays. "There was no way I was not going to be out there with my teammates, I just had to play my role and everyone did the same, so I was just glad to be part of it," said Zanone after the big win.

"Here's a news flash for you, the Milk Can game was not a fluke," quoted an excited Justin Lang after the rivalry win, as Fortuna had gained such confidence in recent weeks with their big wins that it was suggested the Ferndale win earlier in the season would be reversed last Saturday. But so it goes with these rivalry games and that's what makes it so great. A little trash talking, a couple of thousand people in attendance all collectively holding their breath as a high school football game unfolds against rivals.

"We executed those big plays when we needed them, the offense, then the defense really stepped up," explained Ferndale head coach Kim Jorgensen on the win. "Travis (Rye) made some good passes and got the protection he needed, then the defense came through for us," furthered Jorgensen. The Ferndale Wildcats go on to the championship game of the section and face undefeated No. 1 Salesian for the title. A big undertaking after last years result at Salesian, but never count out the Wildcats in a big game. "We'll just go play the game, that's all we're going to do," said Jorgensen looking ahead to yet another big game for the Cats.

photo captions:

photos by Mark Lourenzo/Beacon

1. Fortuna defender No. 25 Kalen Barcelos juggles the ball in an attempt to intercept a Ferndale pass. The play saw Ferndale's Jacoby Hughes (left) almost make a tough catch, then Barcelos just missing an interception, only to see the ball fall to the ground for an incompletion. One play later the Cats hit for a touchdown pass and so it went last Saturday in Ferndale as big plays and near big plays that didn't happen determined the outcome in the NCS semifinal game.

2. In the end good sportsmanship took center stage last Saturday afternoon as Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow (right) congratulates Ferndale head coach Kim Jorgensen on the Wildcats 27-17 win over the Huskies in the North Coast Section semifinal game. The No. 2 Wildcats go on to meet No. 1 Salesian in the championship game of Division 4 this Saturday evening at Alhambra High School.

3. Fortuna quarterback Brady Shaha stretches for additional yardage as the Ferndale defense (Zanone, O'Day and friends) come crashing down on him. The Wildcat defense came up big, limiting the Huskies big weapons and the result was a Ferndale victory in the North Coast Section semifinal game between the cross-valley rivals.

4. Ferndale runningback Justin Lang (center) carries the rock while teammates Kaden Zanone lead blocks and quarterback Travis Rye carries through with the fake in the backfield. The Wildcats executed several big, game changing plays that carried them to a 27-17 win over the Huskies and a berth in the championship game of the North Coast Section Division 4 this Saturday.