Will week off benefit the ‘Hounds?

Healdsburg defense in a game against Analy. (PD photo).


Healdsburg, No. 1 seed in the North Coast Section Division 4 playoffs, was given a first-round bye last week. That is the Greyhounds’ blessing, or their curse, depending on how you look at it.

“I think the results will tell, with what happens Friday night,” Healdsburg coach Tom Kirkpatrick said. “I’ve been in both situations over the years. If you come out and play well, you can usually attribute it to being rested and all that. If you don’t, you sometimes get out of rhythm. We look at it from the positive side.”

Playoff football finally arrives in Healdsburg tonight when Fort Bragg rolls into town for a quarterfinal game. The Timberwolves have a No. 8 seed, but that’s easy to ignore when you consider that they were seeded seventh a year ago before storming through the bracket en route to a section championship. Of course, Healdsburg wasn’t a Division 4 team last year, before officials raised the enrollment threshold by 200 students.

The Greyhounds stuck to a normal practice routine last week, practicing every day but Friday — when Kirkpatrick and his staff drove to Middletown to watch another potential playoff foe in action. The next night, they made the trek to Fort Bragg through driving rain to watch the Timberwolves host Berean Christian.

It was quite a show. The visiting Eagles went up 12-0 (coming up short on two attempts at 2-point conversions) on a swampy field, and were ready to beat down the door, with a fourth-and-inches between the Fort Bragg 1- and 2-yard lines. The Timberwolves held, then turned the game around and won 14-12 with exceptional second-half defense.

“All of a sudden, they settled in and played well after that,” Fort Bragg coach Jack Moyer said of his players. “For a lot of kids, it was their first game in NCS, and they came out a little rattled.”

If Healdsburg’s bye offers one clear advantage, it’s the time it gives Max Opperman to heal. The senior quarterback injured his shoulder just before halftime of the Greyhounds’ regular-season finale at Casa Grande, and did not return to the game. Kirkpatrick said doctors believe Opperman may have suffered a slight separation.

“It’s something we’re gonna evaluate,” Kirkpatrick said. “He’ll practice (starting Monday), and he’s had therapy. He’s trying to throw, but it’s a painful injury.”

When Opperman left the game against Casa, the Greyhounds’ offense looked one-dimensional without him. The Gauchos were able to shut down running back Carson Seanor, something few teams have been able to accomplish this season. Healdsburg has frequently been known as a passing team under Kirkpatrick. This year’s squad is built to run, which could be in its favor now that the weather has turned nasty.

“When you play in weather, more than anything, it’s footing,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s so unpredictable this time of year. You can throw a little quick pass and the guy falls down, and you’re gone. It’s the way things work. At this high school we’ve had a lot of experience playing in mud, and we know you have to run the ball and play defense.”
Healdsburg has been an NCS staple in recent years, but is looking for its first title since 1998, when it captured the now-defunct 2A Redwood Empire Division.

This week, the Greyhounds (7-3) will get a boost from playing in front of the home fans. They are 5-0 at home this year, but 2-3 on the road — including an 0-3 mark in Sonoma County League play. That might not bode well if Healdsburg advances to play Middletown in the semifinals, and Ferndale or Salesian in the final. All of those teams were league champions, giving them home-field advantage against a higher-seeded non-champion.

Fort Bragg (10-1), for its part, is well-versed in the arduous bus ride. At one point this season, the Timberwolves had successive road games in Petaluma, St. Helena and Lower Lake. Moyer knows they’ll be ready for a game – even if they are headed for quirky Rec Park.

“The only trouble is, you don’t play at the school,” Moyer said. “We’ll dress at school, then drive to the game on the bus. Our kids will usually shower after a game. But we’ll just get on the bus all muddy and head home. It’s the disadvantages of traveling. But hey, they got ranked higher, and that’s the way it is.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.