Ferndale takes NCS title with win over St. Vincent; Wildcats make case for CIF state playoffs

Mark Lourenzo

Beacon Correspondent

The Ferndale Wildcats made an emphatic statement of Division 5 superiority with their 53-14 victory over the St. Vincent Mustangs Nov. 24 in the North Coast Section Championship game at Humboldt State University's Redwood Bowl. In the process, the Wildcats made a strong case for a berth in the CIF State football bowl series. Their fate rests in the hands of section representatives, who will meet Sunday to decide the participants for the Division 4, small schools regional game. In the meantime, Ferndale will enjoy their NCS championship, the 8th for the football program under head coach Kim Jorgensen.

The Ferndale Wildcats faced a formidable offense in the St. Vincent Mustangs' West Coast style spread-formation scheme. Mustangs senior quarterback Mitch Sheppard had thrown for more than 2,300 yards through 12 games this season and had thrown a touchdown pass in 23 straight games coming into the championship battle. On a fast track that is the Redwood Bowl's artificial surface and with the rains holding off, the Wildcat defense would be sorely tested in the section's title game. In addition, the Mustangs play on a turf field at home, while the Wildcats played all their games on a grass field this season.

The tone was set early in the game as the Mustangs had the first offensive series, losing yards in the process, thanks to a quarterback sack by Wildcat defensive lineman Hunter Van Emmerik. St. Vincent facing a fourth down and 17 yards to go, found themselves punting to Ferndale. The Wildcats took possession for their initial series at their own 41 yard line and needed just two plays to reach the opponents end zone. Running back Justin Lang exploded for 36 yards to advance the ball into Mustang territory, then Wildcat quarterback Kyle Chambers kept it on a option run for a 23-yard touchdown. Justin Lang regained his job as the Cat's placekicker and booted through the PAT for a 7-0 lead.

The two teams traded possessions after the early score and St. Vincent did earn a first down on their second series, then came up with a defensive stand on Ferndale's second offensive drive. However, three plays into their third offensive possession came a Van Emmerik strip of the Mustang quarterback and Ike Townsend recovered for the Wildcats. The Cats were in business in Mustang territory and four plays later, lightning struck again as Justin Lang hustled the ball into the St. Vincent end zone and the opponents found themselves down by two touchdowns.

The St. Vincent Mustangs had too many weapons to keep them in check all afternoon and quarterback Mitch Sheppard started to connect with his many receivers. Completing six passes in a drive that covered 65 yards, Sheppard hit running back Derek Murphy underneath the Wildcat coverage and he scampered in for a 16-yard touchdown, the Stangs were back in the game. The first quarter ended with a sustained drive by Ferndale, only to have it run out of gas five plays into the second period, at the St. Vincent 32 yard line.

St. Vincent followed with a drive that advanced to midfield but faced a fourth down punt situation. Pulling off one of the better deceptions of the day, the Mustangs short-snapped to running back Michael Carroll who scampered 23 yards to give the possession new life in Wildcat territory. The Mustangs got as close as the Wildcat two yard line and were thinking touchdown, but the Ferndale defense and a untimely penalty forced a field goal attempt. The kick sailed right and the score remained 14-7. Even more important was the momentum shift as the Stangs came up empty on a 12-play drive and the Wildcats decided to raise their game up a notch.

From there the Wildcats exploded as Jacoby Hughes was called upon to carry the football and to introduce another weapon in the Ferndale arsenal. Justin Lang continued to shine as he carried the ball three times for 68 yards and Hughes raced to 144 yards on just six carries to finish off the half. Three Ferndale touchdowns resulted as a Hughes 67-yard run set up QB Kyle Chambers one yard sneak. Lang followed with a 24-yard touchdown run fueled by downfield blocking from Zach Rocha and Ike Townsend. Jacoby Hughes then completed the scoring surge with a 10-yard run to the end zone. Just like that the Mustangs went from a 7 point deficit to the wrong side of a 34-7 halftime score.

The Ferndale Wildcats were not quite done after the second quarter surge and they took the second half opening kickoff 65 yards in 8 plays to yet another Justin Lang touchdown. Running back Zach Rocha had a 24-yard run and Jacoby Hughes took off for 16 more in the drive that really took the comeback wind out of the Mustang sails. Justin Lang added the PAT kick and Ferndale increased their lead to 41-7. A short possession by St. Vincent was followed by more huge chucks of real estate being eaten by the Wildcat running game. To show versatility, the Cats finished off that drive with a 11-yard touchdown pass from QB Chambers to tight end Dakota Ward, the score read 47-7.

Ferndale lineman Tim Zanone later recovered a Mustang fumble and the Cats responded with another long possession to end the third quarter. Jacoby Hughes did the honors with a 1-yard run to the end zone on the first play of the fourth period. St. Vincent had the football for just six plays in the third quarter, while Ferndale amassed a unbeatable advantage on the scoreboard. The Mustangs had one more long drive in the final period to celebrate what they had accomplished this season and senior quarterback Mitch Sheppard connected with senior wide receiver Zach Smith for a 14-yard touchdown pass, the PAT boot by Sheppard made for a final score of 53-14.

Ferndale's Hunter Van Emmerik had a wail of a game on both sides of the Wildcat line. Involved in three quarterback sacks on defense, Van Emmerik also led a masterful group in execution of blocking assignments by the offensive line. Also Chris Catana had another outstanding day in the trenches as did Trevor Earley, Ike Townsend and Tim Zanone. Offensive linemen Kelly O'Day and Tyler Regli rounded out the crew up front that dominated the opponents. "The offensive line was just blowing up holes today, they changed the game and were a force for us," said Ferndale running back Justin Lang, who finished with 3 touchdowns, 160 yards on a dozen carries. Jacoby Hughes also benefited from the execution up front as he rushed for 195 yards on 12 carries, scoring twice.

"We were hoping it would be our quickness that would matter and with our line, it did matter," said Ferndale head coach Kim Jorgensen after the game. "Then we came out and made some good runs, we just came out and got the job done today," added Jorgensen, who celebrated his eighth section title in his 22nd year at the helm of the Wildcats. In all the Ferndale offense generated 563 yards on the ground to counter the opponents passing attack which did produce 167 yards and two touchdowns. "We were excited today, we wanted to come out and show what Ferndale football is all about," finalized senior Justin Lang. That message was surely sent by their performance, we will see if the committee heeds that message on selection Sunday!

Photos by Mark Lourenzo/Beacon

1. Members of the Ferndale Wildcats celebrate their North Coast Section championship with head coach Kim Jorgensen and a traditional ice water shower after Saturday's win in the title game at Humboldt State University. The Wildcats stiffed the St. Vincent Mustangs 53-14 in the championship game for the Division 5 football crown. It is the eighth NCS championship for Jorgensen and the 13th in the school's history.

2. Tight end Dakota Ward pulls in a pass from Wildcat quarterback Kyle Chambers as he nears the goal line in the championship game of the North Coast Section's Division 5. The catch turned into a 11-yard touchdown and would be the only Cat's pass completion for the game. Ferndale amassed 563 yards on the ground on their way to the section title.