ARCATA -- Three Panther seniors made incredible plays and generated stellar offensive stats.
But it was No. 5 seed St. Mary's defense who made two crucial stops in its 49-21 win over No. 2 seed Fortuna in Saturday's North Coast Section Division 4 championship game.
The NCS football title was the first in St. Mary's school history.
”Congratulations to St. Mary's. They had a great plan, and they were better than us today, that's for sure,” said Fortuna head coach Mike Benbow.
The Panthers got on the board first on Ian Bonde's 20-yard touchdown pass to Eric Philip at the 9:33 mark of the first quarter.
The Huskies responded immediately, as Zach Hugh returned the kickoff 90 yards to the north end zone. Then, just 25 seconds before the quarter ended, Major Plain scampered 23 yards around the left side for another TD to put Fortuna ahead 14-7.
The Huskies kept their mojo rising by recovering an onside kick, and then drove to the Panthers 13-yard line.
But the St. Mary's D -- in a 4th-and-1 situation -- stonewalled Fortuna's quarterback keeper, and took over on downs.
”Our defense has been exceptional all year,” said St. Mary's head coach Keith Minor. “They've been really tough in the red zone, and that was a great stand right there. They gave us four stops.”
That play sparked the visitors' ensuing 87-yard drive, punctuated by Bonde's 43-yard touchdown pass to Liam Godfrey. The Bonde-to-Godfrey connection not only tied the score at 14, but clearly swung the momentum back to St. Mary's.
The Panthers made their other pivotal stop in the third quarter.
After Brett Renner's diving interception gave Fortuna with the ball at the St. Mary's 26-yard line, the Blue and White were driving, looking for the go-ahead score. But on a sweep to the left, a trio of Panther defenders forced a fumble and recovered the ball at their own 10-yard line.
”We knew all week we were going to have to take advantage of opportunities, and we weren't able to,” said Benbow. “The wheels kind of came off in the third quarter.”
St. Mary's exploded quickly, needing just four plays to go 90 yards for the TD. The big play was Lorenzo Logwood's third-down, 54-yard burst through the Huskies and then back down the right sideline.
”That run put the nail in the coffin,” said Minor.
The other nail came on the next play when Bonde hit Phillip on a 25-yard TD pass and the Panthers took a 21-14 lead.
With less than a minute remaining in the quarter, the Huskies chased Bonde out of the pocket. The senior QB fired the ball down the right sideline, putting it up for grabs. Godfrey went up between two defenders, somehow caught the ball, and then raced off for a 75-yard TD play that made it 28-14.
Not done yet, St. Mary's found paydirt again. This time it was Logwood, rumbling around the right side and 30 yards down the sideline, breaking a tackle, for the points that put the Panthers up 35-14.
Down by three scores, the Huskies put it into gear and Plain scored on a third-effort, 8-yard cutback run with 9:23 left.
But time was running out, and Fortuna needed to get away from its run-first scheme and take to the air.
That resulted in two final St. Mary's pick-six TDs -- with Ron Smith taking it to the house from 45 yards out, and Arius Williams scoring from 55 yards out on the home team's next possession.
In retrospect, Fortuna's D had to pick its poison against St. Mary's offense playing at a high level of efficiency.
”Bonde was incredible. Our Big Three (seniors Bonde, Godfrey and Logwood), and Phillip, performed really well,” said Minor, whose team ended the season with a 10-4 record.
Bonde completed 20 of 25 passes for 340 yards and four TDs. Godfrey caught 13 balls for 247 yards and two TDs. Logwood carried the rock 16 times for 130 yards. Phillip caught five passes for 79 yards and two TDs.
Despite surrendering big plays, the Huskies' D made several excellent plays. Thomas Roberts had two sacks, Patrick Daly had another, and Robbie Yates made two tackles for losses.
Quarterback Jacob Hough completed 13 of 25 passes to five different receivers for a total of 137 yards. Hough also carried 10 times for 51 yards, which combined with Renner (14 carries for 44 yards) and Plain (five rushes for 46 yards), provided the bulk of the Huskies' ground yardage.
Even in defeat, Benbow was justifiably proud of his team (who finished 10-3 overall), seeking the school's first NCS crown in 13 years.
”I'm very, very proud of our young men. They were a special group,” said Benbow. “They were dedicated and worked hard for each other, not for us (coaches). It's very hard to say good-bye to our seniors.”
Photos by Nick Adams/The Times-Standard
1. The Huskies played well, but fell 49-21 to the Panthers at the North Coast Section Division 4 championship game.
2. The Huskies finished the season 10-3 overall, seeking the school's first NCS crown in 13 years.