This past Friday evening, yours truly rolled into town and witnessed the tallest logs and the strongest loggers in the Empire, the Eureka Loggers. What a performance, and what hospitality.
The game was billed as the biggest local test for Eureka after meeting all the challenges of a 2500-mile road trip without a blemish. Its opponent, the Fortuna Huskies, took a short ride up Highway 101 for the contest played before a large, vocal crowd in a beautiful Redwood tree-enveloped Albee Stadium on the Eureka High campus.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, the sled back to Fortuna did not carry any logs. As a matter of fact, it didnít carry anything but bumps and bruises as Eureka rolled again by a 33-0 score to improve to 7-0. Had not newly installed Fortuna running back Anthony Essig run for 130 yards on 22 carries, this one may have been as bad as Eurekaís 67-0 drubbing of Arcata last week in the Big 5 league opener. That makes it an even 100-0 the Loggers have outscored their far north league opponents. If this past week's performance against the No. 2 team in the area is any indication of the future -- and especially after meeting the players, coaches and parents off the field -- I'm not sure anyone will score on the Loggers from now until the playoffs.
The big three stars of Eureka, Rey Maualuga, Sam Vainuku and Mo Purify were phenomenal, but it was the play and depth of the supporting cast that makes Eureka a legitimate power in statewide Division II football and validates their rise this week to No. 10 in the state in that division.
Maualuga, the 6-3, 230-pound linebacker who has to be one of the best juniors in the nation at that position, started early with two tackles on Fortuna's opening drive, including one for a five-yard loss that forced a punt. The hotly sought after junior, who would like to follow some of his Samoan brethren to USC, finished with 15 tackles with three for losses and was part of a goal line stand that preserved the shutout.
Purify, the 6-3, 220-pound senior, may have the biggest and most immediate future at the next level. With the propensity of colleges to go after receivers who can go up and over a defender and muscle the ball way from smaller players, Purify fits the bill to a tee. I certainly have not seen anyone so far in the Redwood Empire who can defend the alley-oop from quarterback Josh Larson (7 of 13 for 210 yards and 2 TDs) to Mo. For the game, Purify caught five balls for 155 yards and two touchdowns. On one of the scores, he showed he can also flash some speed, racing around left end and past two defenders 88 yards to paydirt. He also had an interception on defense from his DB position. He would like to go to Washington, so look out Pac-10!
As for Vainuku, this guy is a punishing runner -- one who delivers a blow getting tackled as well as taking one. On this evening, the 5-11, 195-pound senior carried 16 times for 149 yards and a 39-yard TD. He also had an interception as a defensive back as well as having seven tackles.
Coach and Athletic Director Jack Lakin, in his 14th year at the school, has assembled what many insiders tell me is probably the best team ever from the Eureka area. He has done it his way, with discipline, hard practice and strict adherence to rules with an emphasis on academics. Lakin even looks the part. Walking onto the field with a red flannel shirt and dungarees, he looked as though he could have just gotten out of his truck after a day's work in a logging camp.
With respect to the supporting cast, not only did they impress me on the field but off the gridiron as well.
Darren Allen, the 6-0, 255-pound defensive lineman, had a nice game as the gopher. He constantly dug in underneath the Huskie blockers to disrupt the tight formation toss offense of Fortuna. He also is relentless in prodding along fellow teammates on the sidelines, but is a gentle and fairly well-spoken young man at home. His father, school psychologist Craig Allen, is the one who invited me to come up behind the curtain, invited me into his home -- and provided me with those flapjacks -- and more.
Craig also shoots the film for Eureka, so after the game a few of the players and their girlfriends gathered at his home to watch film and revel in the glory of their big win. Son Darren, quarterback Larson, linebacker Steve Swanson (nine tackles in the game), linebacker Michael Davie, offensive tackle Clint Hooper, running back/linebacker Jeff Slack and assistant coach/defensive coordinator Garrett Montana sipped Cokes while Craig and I had something a little stronger as we watched film. The prep sports junkie that I am, I had everyone watching the tape of the De La Salle-Evangel Christian game afterward until the youngsters' eyelids were closing after one in the morning.
The games are important, but it's the people, the players and the little things that are important to me. Years from now when I think of this 600-mile trip I will remember, the town, the trees, the drive, the Allens -- and Mo Purify driving up to me in the parking lot after the game as I looked around for the car. "Sir, can I give you a ride somewhere?" Mo asked. That, my friend, is what life is all about.
Super Seven Rankings
1) Eureka (7-0) -- Right now these guys are in a class of their own. Playoffs loom.
2) Marin Catholic, Kentfield (6-1) -- The Wildcats rested star Khalil Bell in the second half in a 48-10 win over Tamalpais. Unfortunately for the Red Tailed Hawks, he ran for 237 yards and 3 TDs, including a 69-yarder on the first play from scrimmage, all in the first half.
3) Casa Grande, Petaluma (6-1) -- A 22-17 win against El Molino may not impress some, but the Gauchos have won six in a row since the opening loss to Novato.
4) Cardinal Newman, Santa Rosa (6-1) -- The 25-20 upset by Rancho Cotate may surprise some, but Rancho is well-coached, improving each week, knows what it takes to win and may be a factor in the playoffs. The Cardinals should have no problem with winless Elsie Allen this week.
5T) Novato (5-2) -- Won a 10-9 squeaker on the road in Napa against a tough Justin-Siena.
5T) Montgomery, Santa Rosa (6-1-1) -- A 41-13 pasting of Elsie Allen was last week's score. Upcoming is a showdown with Piner to see who is a playoff contender.
5T) Analy, Sebastopol (6-1) -- Looked good against a strong Windsor team in winning easily 48-6. At Healdsburg next.
On the Bubble
8) Piner (6-1)
9) Ferndale (7-0)
10) Redwood (5-2)
11) Justin-Siena (5-2)
12T) San Marin (5-2)
12T) Fortuna (4-3)
Editor's Note: Harold Abend is in his first year as a Cal-Hi Sports correspondent from the Redwood Empire. Previously, he has been the correspondent from the San Diego Section. Abend also has served as a media relations consultant for the CIF state office for many years.