By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Playing their best football when games counted most, Tomales still couldn’t overcome Hoopa Valley, losing a second consecutive section title game to the powerful squad from Humboldt County.
Losing half of the Braves’ dynamic running back duo in the first half, Tomales couldn’t muster enough offense to keep pace with Hoopa Valley’s deep running game and overcome the Warriors’ aggressive defense in the 27-8 loss Saturday.
“Hoopa’s very physical and they’ve got a lot of speed. Playing catch up isn’t our style,” said Tomales coach Leon Feliciano.
Pacing the Hoopa Valley offense was Sonny Ryles, a prolific running quarterback who feeds the ball to a swarm of backs.
“Sonny’s a fast little kid. He’s a very smart kid,” said Hoopa Valley coach Marty Wilkes. “Against Tomales we had to be good. They do a really good job over there.”
The matchup was déjà vu all over again. Hoopa Valley defeated Tomales in last season’s North Coast Section Division 5 title contest — on the same Humboldt State University field on the first Saturday in December.
Adding to the familiarity between the Braves and Warriors is their style of play — physical up front with power running games and stout defenses along the line and among the linebackers.
Both teams want to control the ball on offense and wear down opponents with walls of large linemen, most playing both ways.
“We’ve got to win the battle on the line of scrimmage and control the tempo,” Feliciano said. “Our offense is our best defense.”
But the Braves lost back Anthony Feliciano to a knee injury in the first half, a big blow to Tomales. The coach’s son is a 1,000-yard rusher, the bruising complement to record-setting running back Michael Guerrero.
Tomales runs a double-wing toss offense with Guerrero and Feliciano sharing the load.
“We pound it with those guys,” coach Feliciano said.
Hoopa Valley runs an option with Ryles a 1,000-yard rusher and a quartet of backs each going for half that yardage on the season.
Defense was the difference in the game Saturday as it was a year ago. “They’re really aggressive and they’re big up front,” Wilkes said. “If there’s one edge for us, it’s team speed.”
Hoopa Valley needed to be at its best Saturday with Tomales pushing opponents around in recent weeks.
After a roller coaster start to the season, Tomales found a rhythm behind an offense that threw the ball well enough to keep opponents honest against the Braves’ formidable rushing tandem.
What the Braves had from the start was a stingy defense led by linebackers Justin Kehoe and Justin Brady and line stalwarts Guerrero and Juan Avalos.
A tougher schedule than in past seasons tested Tomales early, yet prepared the Braves for the section playoffs.
After a pair of routs in the playoffs, however, Tomales couldn’t overcome Hoopa Valley.