When the undefeated and state-ranked Oak Harbor and Ferndale high school football teams clash at 7 p.m. this Friday at Wildcat Memorial Stadium, the game will feature two of the area’s most successful programs.
Both teams are 6-0 this season and 3-0 in Wesco North play. The Golden Eagles are ranked second in this week’s Associated Press 3A poll; the Wildcats are listed eighth.
The winner will have the inside track to capture the divisional crown, but, by no means, have it locked up.
The Wesco North is one of the strongest conferences in the state and also includes Squalicum and Arlington, two teams that have also appeared in the state 3A top-10 poll this year.
Oak Harbor defeated Squalicum, the defending league champion, 21-20 Sept. 29. Ferndale stopped Arlington 41-13 Sept. 22. Arlington’s only other loss this season was 35-21 to Graham Kapowsin, the state’s third-ranked 4A team.
Oak Harbor plays at Arlington and Ferndale hosts Squalicum Oct. 20.
Ferndale qualified for the state football tournament in 16 of the past 22 years, including winning the title in 2005, a year after finishing second. The Golden Eagles also finished second in 1997.
Oak Harbor has six state appearances since 2002, grabbing the 4A crown in 2006.
Both Ferndale and Oak Harbor put together strong runs early this century. Ferndale, which played in the Northwest Conference until last year, won five straight league titles from 2004-8. Oak Harbor captured crowns in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Other than the Wildcats’ tie for first in 2014, the two teams have had to settle for a handful of second places since then.
Both were conference runners-up four times in the last six seasons.
In a poll of the league’s coaches, Ferndale entered this fall as the preseason favorite to win the Wesco North, and the Golden Eagles have lived up to that expectation by outscoring their opponents on an average of 41-12.
Oak Harbor, picked to finish third, has beaten its foes on average of 34-11.
The teams have one common opponent this season. Ferndale beat Stanwood 35-3, and Oak Harbor stopped the Spartans 19-7.
“They are really good,” Oak Harbor coach Jay Turner said of Ferndale. He likened them to a college team with their mixture of size and speed.
“Arlington is good, and Ferndale manhandled them,” he added.
The Golden Eagles are led by James Hinson (6-3, 200), an all-league first-team selection at quarterback and cornerback last fall and a three-year starter.
He is joined in both backfields by Cole Semu (5-10, 200), a second-team, all-North pick in 2016 when he rushed for 1,117 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Ferndale also returns three linemen — Alex Cleary (6-0, 200), Geiran Hatchett (6-5, 250) and Mikhail Varetskiey (6-2, 220) — who earned all-league honors last fall.
The Golden Eagles will hold a size advantage along the lines; Oak Harbor has only one starting offensive lineman and two defensive linemen that weigh more than 200 pounds.
Ferndale’s strength starts with its senior leadership, according to coach Jamie Plenkovich.
“I feel this team is pretty close and gets along well,” he added.
In summing up the season so far, Plenkovich said, “Defensively we have, for the most part, played pretty well, and our offensive and defensive lines have controlled the line of scrimmage. Couple that with a three-year starter at QB in James Hinson and a special back in Cole Semu (and it) has allowed our offense to be pretty efficient.”
Plenkovich credits Ferndale’s long-running success to the consistency of its coaching staff.
“Most of us have been together for many years and (that) allows our players to clearly understand our expectations and our offensive and defensive systems,” he said.
“Ferndale has also had such a strong football tradition that carries into our players the expectation every year of being good.”
“Oak Harbor is extremely consistent on both sides of the ball,” Plenkovich said. “Defensively they have been solid all year, giving up less points so far than we have, and offensively they run their version of the wing-T exceedingly well. They are patient and take what the defensive gives them, and they don’t beat themselves.”
Plenkovich noted the talent of Oak Harbor’s three running backs: “(They) can make big plays if we don’t do a great job at the point of attack and tackling in space.”
Those three runners, all sprinters on the Wildcat track team, have paced the Wildcats’ run-heavy offense this fall.
Fullback Mac Nuanez (6-1, 170) has run for 691 yards on 124 carries, a 5.6 average; TJ Hollins-Passmore (5-11, 160) has 521 yards on 66 carries for a 7.9 average; and Taeson Hardin (5-11, 170) has recorded 407 yards on 36 carries, an 11.3 average per rush.
Oak Harbor doesn’t pass much, but quarterback Jordan Bell has been consistent when needed, completing 29 of 54 passes for 322 yards for six touchdowns. Kyle Nickols has caught 15 of those passes for 185 yards and five touchdowns.
Ferndale defeated Oak Harbor 35-18 last year after the Wildcats came out on top in 2014 and 2015.