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Neil Tarpey

The Times-Standard

FORTUNA -- Helmet-to-helmet, toe-to-toe.

Fortuna, trailing Del Norte by six points, gambled on the first play of the fourth quarter, and it paid off. Facing a 4th-and-4 situation at the Del Norte 9-yard line, quarterback Jacob Hough hit Major Plain on a middle screen, and the junior receiver weaved his way through Warriors into the east end zone to tie the score.

Then, on the ensuing extra point attempt, left-footed kicker Bryant Head booted a knuckleball that sailed sideways, its trajectory taking the ball just over the crossbar, to put the Huskies ahead.

Head's kick provided what proved to be the game-winning point, as the Huskies edged the Warriors 21-20 in a North Coast Section Division 4 semifinal Friday evening at Husky Field.

The loss ended the season -- including two playoff upsets on the road over Justin-Siena and Healdsburg -- for Del Norte (6-7).

”We had a lot of adversity, but when Del Norte went ahead, we responded,” said Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow. “It was a testament to how hard they (Huskies) worked.

”I feel bad for them (Warriors), they stopped our run, they played great defense. But our defense also played great. I'm happy for us.”

With the win, the Huskies (10-2) advanced to a NCS championship game for the first time in 13 years. Next weekend, they will play the winner of today's 1 p.m. contest between top-seeded San Marin (9-2) and No. 5 seed St. Mary's (8-4) at a site to be determined.

”They did a monumentous job coming down here and play well against a great Fortuna team,” said Del Norte head coach Ray Rook. “Our defense played their hearts out.”

As both head coaches accurately noted, stout defense dominated, and created costly turnovers, in this memorable North Coast semifinal.

Fortuna's D got the first takeaway of the contest in the opening quarter, when sophomore cornerback Dylan Kepon intercepted a Steve Maready pass that bounced off the receiver's hands.

The Huskies immediately cashed in, as Hough zeroed in on Zach Hugh for a 39-yard scoring strike down the middle to help the home team go up 7-0.

But the Warriors' D stiffened, forcing the Huskies to punt on their next four consecutive possessions.

As a result, Del Norte, primarily benefiting from the running of senior Jackson Evans -- who finished with 102 yards on 19 carries -- got close enough twice for sure-footed kicker Jonathan Calderon to attempt field goals.

Calderon connected on both shots, hitting from 32 and 41 yards, bringing the Warriors within a point (7-6).

Del Norte's D stepped up with 3:18 left in the half, when Maready alertly picked up a fumble for a 25-yard scoop-and-score to put the visitors ahead 12-7. Calderon's string of 23 consecutive successful PATs ended when his kick went wide right.

Fortuna needed to recapture the momentum, and it did via a steady drive that ended with a TD 1:35 before halftime. On the play, Nolan Cahill's fake into the middle helped Brett Renner race around the right side for a three-yard run.

The Warriors' D set up their next TD, with junior linebacker Zach Taylor recovering a Husky fumble at the 5-yard line. On the next play, Maready scampered in from five yards out. Jackson's two-point conversion run put Del Norte ahead 20-14.

The Huskies -- who won their 12th straight game against the Warriors -- recorded five sacks, with Patrick Daly (2), Dominic Eastburn, Robbie Yates and Josh Simmons doing the damage.

As for the Warriors, what will Rook remember most about his team, a group whose record was once 1-4, then 3-6, before jelling in time for a memorable playoff run?

”Their sheer perseverance,” said Rook. “They were the funnest group of kids I've ever been around.”

Neil Tarpey can be reached evenings at 707-441-0579 or ntarpey@times-standard.com. Follow him at twitter.com/tarpflash14.

photo by Nick Adams/The Times-Standard

The Huskies edged the Warriors 21-20 at home Friday night in a North Coast Section Division 4 semifinal game.