Ferndale Wildcats beat Upper Lake in NCS opener; advance to host St. Bernard's on Saturday

Mark Lourenzo

Beacon Correspondent

The Ferndale Wildcats got off to a slow start at home last Saturday versus the Upper Lake Cougars, then exploded for 21 points in the second quarter alone and cruised to a 35-8 win in the opening round of the North Coast Section, Division 5 football playoffs.

The underdog Cougars moved the ball smartly in the first quarter, gaining yardage and first downs, reaching the Ferndale 25 yardline and later the Wildcat 31 yardline with their drives. Between a Wildcat pass was intercepted by Upper Lake's Michael DiAndrea. The Cougars had every opportunity to make a statement early in the contest.

It was the Ferndale defense that instead made the early statement as the Wildcat defensive front stopped two straight running plays for losses, then later the Cats' pass defensive coverage forced two incompletions to stifle the second drive. The Cats scored on their next three possessions, all in the second period, and Ferndale took control of the game. The second quarter became a running game for the Wildcats with action from Jacoby Hughes, Zach Rocha and Justin Lang, and Ferndale fans got to see big fullback Ike Townsend run the ball, as he saw action for the first time since his injury down at South Fork several weeks ago.

All purpose back Jacoby Hughes opened the scoring with a 7-yard touchdown at the 9:51 mark of the second quarter. Scat back Zach Rocha reached the end zone twice thereafter as he sprinted 16 yards at the 5:26 mark, then a 5-yard touchdown came at 2:32 to play in the half. The second score was set up by a Hughes 57-yard punt return down to the Upper Lake 9 yard line, Rocha took it in from there. The Wildcats almost added a fourth score before the half, as lineman Trevor Earley recovered a Cougar fumble and rumbled 35 yards to the end zone. However, a Ferndale penalty negated the score and the halftime scoreboard read 21-0.

The Wildcats opened the second half as they had left off. Combining the run, the pass and a Cougar penalty, Ferndale marched 75 yards in nine plays and reached paydirt on a quarterback Kyle Chambers pass to Dakota Ward for a 16 yard touchdown. The next time the Wildcats gained possession of the ball, an 11-play drive unfolded and Ike Townsend finished it off with a 6-yard touchdown run. The Ferndale fans cheered the returning player as a healthy Townsend makes the Cats all the stronger for the stretch run to the title. Place kicker Chris Catana booted his third PAT of the game and the Cats had 35 points in the bank.

Upper Lake cracked the scoreboard with 3:38 to play when quarterback and playmaker Travis Coleman ran in a 37-yard touchdown. Running back Ward Beecher ran in a 2-point conversion and the scoring was complete. Coleman finished with 113 yards on 12 carries and made several stops on defense. Backfield mates Conner McVey and Beecher combined for 100 yards on 27 carries however, that accounted for 98 percent of the Cougars offense. The Wildcats meanwhile showed a lot of weapons as Zach Rocha rushed for 94 yards on a dozen carries, Justin Lang gained 65 yards on 11 rushes. Jacoby Hughes added 59 yards on the ground and QB Kyle Chambers connected on four passes for 47 yards gained.

Saturday's win propels the Wildcats into the semifinal round on Nov. 17 where they will host the St. Bernard's Crusaders for a berth in the championship game. It will be the third time Ferndale and St. Bernard's have met on the football field this season. The only question remaining is, will it be third times a charm for the Wildcats or for the Crusaders?

photo caption:

Photo by Mark Lourenzo/Beacon

Ferndale's Justin Lang (center) takes the handoff from Wildcat quarterback Kyle Chambers and turns upfield while teammate Zach Rocha looks to throw a block on Upper Lake defender Ward Beecher at the Nov. 8 NCS opener.