The message from Jason White 24 hours before his Loggers take the field for their first state championship playoff game in program history is as clear as it was in mid September — the Eureka Loggers welcome any challenge.
What the head coach won’t admit? They really haven’t faced one. Not against the several upper division teams his Loggers handled with ease during the regular season and certainly not against Las Lomas a week ago in the North Coast Section D-III semifinals, a game which the Loggers shutout a team in Las Lomas 21-0 which entered last week’s contest averaging 49 ppg.
In fact the closest the Loggers have come to a loss in 2018 was last week’s coin toss against Cardinal Newman, the first time in the 105-year history of the NCS that a coin flip was used to decide which team would advance to the state championship series.
Think about that. Eureka, a team which won because of its superior skill and size and needed no luck to grab lopsided win after win during their 12-0 season, needed all the luck in the world to advance to tonight’s Division 3-AA semifinal game against Menlo-Atherton.
They’ll need a bit of both tonight if they are advance to next week’s state championship game against Lincoln (San Diego).
The Menlo-Atherton Bears (11-2) have five sure-fire FBS division-I caliber players — not to mention a roster nearly twice the size of the Loggers’ — and experience at the state championships level, having advanced to the D 3-AA championship game in 2016 after winning a Central Coast Section title. The Bears beat Wilcox 33-28 back on Nov. 30 to claim their second CCS title in three years and a ticket to tonight’s game.
“These games present a big stage, and that’s something we have experience with,” Menlo-Atherton head coach Adhir Ravipati said. “But, in high school football, these games come down to which team functions better as a group and which team has a real brotherhood and bond where the guys are playing for each other. One thing we made our team well aware of is that Humboldt County has a history of producing great football teams, we’re by no means a favorite.”
Bears’ defensive lineman Noa Ngalu is a Washington commit and has six sacks and 47 tackles this season. At 6-foot-2 and 280-pounds Ngalu will be the largest lineman the Loggers’ line will have seen when they meet tonight. Linebacker Daniel Heimuli, a five-star recruit, is one of the top ranked players at his position in the country and, after this season, will choose between offers from Alabama, UCLA, Utah, Washington and Oregon. Heimuli has a team-leading 80 tackles and five sacks this season.
Offensively, the Bears have more than a few weapons.
Junior Justin Anderson, a corner back and receiver, is a D-I prospect and receiver Troy Franklin, a sophomore, is the the highest rated sophomore at his position in the state according to 247Sports. Franklin leads the team with 365 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns.
“It’s kind of like last week, Las Lomas had a D-I running back and that was a new challenge we hadn’t faced, but we took it on and won,” White said. “And now, we have a new test against a team with a lot of talent, but this is what’s next. They are the most physical team we’ll have faced this season. If they come out and win and prove to be the better team then that’s alright but we’ll keep playing the same way we have all year.”
Recruitment hype aside Eureka’s linebacker Tyce Mullins has 113 total tackles and five sacks in 2018 and he’ll be the only player on the field with over a 100 tackles tonight. The senior’s experience will be crucial as the Loggers look to tame as high a flying offense as it has seen so far this season.
Cruz Montana will be the only quarterback on the field with more than 20 touchdowns — the senior has 25 to just three interceptions.
And both will be under the guidance of a veteran coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Garrett Montana previously lead Eureka to a section title in 2009, and has been a perfect compliment to White all season.
“It’s incredible to have the coaching staff we have right now,” White said. “Whenever we run into an issue mid-game, there’s always someone who has a solution. It never takes long to figure something out and that’s huge for us.”
Tonight’s game will be played at McKinleyville High due to the Loggers’ home field, Albee Stadium, being deemed unfit to play upon by the California Interscholastic Federation. Kick off is at 7:30 p.m. The temperature should hover in the low 50s to the high 40s during the game and the skies should be clear.