Wildcats hold on to Milk Can for another year; Ferndale tops Fortuna 20-14 in annual football clash

Mark Lourenzo

Beacon Correspondent

The Ferndale Wildcats conjured a little Milk Can magic and combined several big plays with stout defense to top the Fortuna Huskies 20-14 in the annual battle for gridiron bragging rights of the Eel River Valley. The Cats once again retained the Milk Can and have dominated the series in the last decade, leaving the Huskies just one win. As they have so many times in the Milk Can series, the Wildcats found a way to win, this time despite being outdone in many of the offensive categories. Ferndale had just enough game-changing plays to stay on top, while Fortuna was just one big offensive play and a successful PAT away from pulling out a win in the final period.

The Wildcats used the quick-strike approach, scoring on just their second offensive play. After stopping the Huskies on their first possession, the Cats made quick work of a short field and running back Kaden Zanone streaked to the end zone with his 36-yard touchdown run. A sea of red-clad fans on the Ferndale side of the field erupted with the score and a Justin Lang PAT kick gave Ferndale an early 7-0 lead. The Huskies followed with a 13-play offensive drive cut short by the Wildcat defense.

Covering 73 yards in 11 plays, Fortuna hit pay dirt with a touchdown pass of 32 yards from quarterback Jacob Hough to wide receiver Kyle Wiegman. The defensive coverage by Ferndale's Justin Lang was excellent, but the ball passed right through Lang's hands and a possible interception turned into a Fortuna touchdown. At the 10:59 mark of the second quarter a PAT kick by Husky Chance Tindall tied the score at seven apiece. Ferndale responded with a extended drive of their own but the Cats drive fizzled out as they neared the Husky redzone.

The two teams exchanged possessions as the second quarter wound down. The Huskies hoped to score before the half, but multiple pass incompletions prevented those aspirations. With less than a minute to play, Ferndale coughed up the ball in their end of the field and Fortuna lineman Ryan Erickson pounced on the loose ball. The Huskies were in business again and quarterback Jacob Hough hooked up with receiver Chandler Wilson to advance the ball closer to a score. But one final incompletion left the ball 10 yards short of the Wildcat end zone.

The third quarter started with a quick exchange of possessions by the two teams before the Wildcats again struck again. Just one play into their second possession, Ferndale quarterback Kyle Chambers passed to wideout Jacoby Hughes a dozen yards downfield. The Husky defense gambled and went for the interception, instead Hughes hauled it in and turned on the jets for the Fortuna end zone. The play equated into a 52-yard touchdown for the Wildcats and Justin Lang added a PAT kick for a 14-7 lead. It wouldn't be long before Fortuna was in for another big jolt.

Just five plays into their next drive, the ball was jarred loose in the Fortuna backfield. Ferndale's Ike Townsend delivered the hit and Hunter Van Emmerik recovered the fumble for the Wildcats. Ferndale has a knack for taking advantage of a turnover and a short field, sure enough four successful offensive plays later saw Justin Lang run in a 6-yard touchdown. The PAT kick failed but the Wildcats commanded a 20-7 lead midway through the third quarter. In less than four minutes of the game clock, the Wildcats had pulled off three big plays to take a 13 point lead.

The opening drive of the final period saw Ferndale return the favor to Fortuna as Chandler Wilson intercepted a errant Wildcat pass attempt. The turnover set up the Huskies with a first and 10 at the Wildcat's 25 yard line and this time Fortuna cashed in. Husky running back Travis Milich cracked off his longest run of the game and sprinted 22 yards to the Wildcat end zone. The Chance Tindall PAT kick brought the Huskies to within six points with 9:52 to play. There was still plenty of time for heroics and the Huskies defense stopped the Wildcats next possession in four plays. Three plays later, the ball was once again loose in the Husky backfield and this time Ferndale's Ike Townsend pounced on the loose ball.

That turnover led to another Ferndale punt, but the Huskies were running short of opportunities with four minutes to play. The Huskies turned to the air and the old adage "live by the pass, die by the pass" came to light. Four pass plays resulted in three incompletions and a play for a loss and the Cats had the ball with a chance to ice the game. Ferndale did gain one first down on a Zanone run but the Cats had to give the ball back to the Huskies with 37 ticks on the clock. Pass incompletions once again hurt the Huskies and the Wildcats came with the defensive rush. The game ended with Wildcat Hunter Van Emmerik sacking the Husky quarterback at midfield and the Ferndale victory was secure. Van Emmerik finished with two QB sacks and a fumble recovery.

Fortuna dominated in many offensive categories including time of possession, first downs (16-8), offensive plays (78-44) and total yards (244-160), yet somehow Ferndale had found a way to win. The Wildcats have perfected the "bend but don't break defensive approach" that has paid off so many times for them over the years. The Huskies had throw an uncharacteristic 31 passes in the big game, completing just 11 attempts. The Wildcats won the battle of the big plays and the scoreboard to return the Milk Can to the Cream City for yet another year. Ferndale senior Kaden Zanone missed half the game from the time of his injury in the first quarter till his return in the 2nd half. "I just wanted to be out there with my teammates, it was killing me to be on the sidelines," said Zanone, playing in his final Milk Can game.

Another Ferndale senior that had to be out there with his teammates was lineman Chris Catana, who had family obligations that could have sent him out of town for the weekend. "It was my last Milk Can game, so I had to stay home, I'm glad I did," said Catana after the victory. The Wildcats were certainly glad he stayed home, the outcome could have been different with his absence, it was that close. So the Wildcats move on and this weekend travel to Jackson to take on Argonaut High. "They are good, they're big and fast and run the toss offense, so it will be a big challenge for us," said Ferndale head coach Kim Jorgensen earlier this week. Another weekend, another big challenge for the Ferndale Wildcats. Meanwhile the Fortuna Huskies face a much improved Arcata Tiger team at home this Friday, a must-win league contest.

In junior varsity Milk Can action, it was the Ferndale Wildcats making it a sweep with their victory over the Fortuna Huskies by a score of 22-16. It was a game that went back and forth with Fortuna scoring on their opening drive of the game. Going 80 yards to open the contest, Husky quarterback Zach Hugh bulled in the final yards and Fortuna led 8-0 in the early going. Ferndale answered inside two minutes to play in the first period, running back Cody Allen went 11 yards on a sweep to the end zone. A missed PAT by the Cats made it 8-6. A short punt by Fortuna later gave the Ferndale the ball at midfield and again Cody Allen went to work with a sizzling 47 yard touchdown run. Quarterback Bradly Martin's keeper gave the Cats the lead at 14-8.

Fortuna answered with a halfback option pass that fooled the Ferndale defense and receiver Ben Flackus streaked to the end zone. A missed conversion attempt by Fortuna, yet the Huskies led at the half, 16-14. The third quarter saw a nice fake punt by Ferndale, as Martin converted a 4th and 5 situation but Fortuna later stopped that Wildcat drive. The Cats returned the favor and stopped a Husky drive as the 3rd period came to an end. Ferndale marched down the field to start the final period, converting yet another 4th down situation. That drive culminated in a 17 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Martin to receiver Chase Richardson in the end zone. Martin then scrambled in a 2-point conversion run for a 20-16 Ferndale lead. Despite their best efforts the Huskies were unable to respond and the Cats held on for the win.

photo captions:

Photos by Mark Lourenzo/Beacon

1. Members of the victorious Ferndale Wildcats pose with the Milk Can after the Cats nipped the Fortuna Huskies 20-14 Saturday in the annual gridiron battle. The Cats pulled off the win with big plays and the defense thwarted final quarter attempts by the Huskies.

2. The football eludes Fortuna wide receiver Kyle Weigman in the end zone after excellent defense by Ferndale's Jacoby Hughes helped prevent a Husky touchdown. Both Weigman and Hughes made touchdown catches for their respective teams in Saturday's Milk Can. The Wildcats came up with just a few more big plays to hang on for the 20-14 win.