Tigers play for section football championship tonight

Steve Gerace
Tiger senior Justin DeClusin, right, hopes to elude Redding Christian defenders in the Nov. 16 championship game the way he did on this play when Dunsmuir played on the same Palo Cedro field in late October.

The Dunsmuir High School football team is returning to the Northern Section Division VI championship game for the second year in a row tonight at Redding Christian High School in Palo Cedro.

Forecasts call for about a 50 percent chance of rain during the game, which is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

The Tigers and Lions were clearly the top two teams in the section this season. Redding Christian is 13-0, Dunsmuir is 11-1. When the two teams met in the final California North 8-Man League game of the season Oct. 26, Dunsmuir led at half time 16-9, but was outscored 15-0 in the second half and lost, 24-16.

Nearly every other game the two teams played was a blowout win. Redding Christian outscored its opponents by a combined 596-139. The Tigers had a 439-121 scoring advantage. Their only other close game was a 28-22 win in their semifinal at Loyalton Nov. 9.

The Tigers came painfully close to winning last year's section title, but a late interception when they were about to go in for another score resulted in a 38-34 loss in the championship game at Butte Valley in Dorris.

It appears the Tigers will be playing Redding Christian this time without their star quarterback Hayden Piper, who suffered a broken clavicle in a 45-9 semifinal win over Butte Valley.

Piper leads Division 6 with 2,076 yards rushing and 38 rushing touchdowns. He's also No. 2 in passing with 1,152 yards, 16 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

Senior Justin DeClusin leads the Tiger offense with 1,884 yards rushing, the second most yards in Division VI. He averages more than 15 yards per carry and is second in points scored with 156. On defense, DeClusin is first in quarterback sacks with 12 and tied for seventh in tackles with Redding Christian's Nick Allen, both with 109.

Tiger quarterback Brian Taylor, a junior, has thrown for 548 yards and 8 touchdowns with no interceptions and is No. 7 in the Division with 844 yards rushing. He averages 11 yards per carry, has rushed for 11 touchdowns, and is ranked eighth in points with 70.

Taylor also leads the Division with 9 pass interceptions.

Senior Mason Mekeel is the Tigers' top pass receiver with 10 catches for 163 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mekeel is second in the Division with 136 tackles, including 82 solo.

Senior Jeff Rhoades is ranked fifth in tackles with 113; Cody Hagedon is tied for third in interceptions with 4; and Dayton Pepperdine, who averages 14 yards per carry, is 12th in rushing with 524 yards.

CJ Palmer averages just under 30 yards per punt return for Dunsmuir, and place kicker Randy Hix is second only to Redding Christian's Luke Verhoog with 19 PAT kicks. Verhoog has 27; nobody else in the Division has more than 5.

Dunsmuir head coach Ray Kellar applauded the Tigers for their 28-22 come-from-behind win amid snow flurries and sub-freezing temperature Saturday at Loyalton.

After trailing 22-8 at half time, the Tigers scored 20 unanswered points in the second half.

"The team grew tremendously in that half of football," Kellar wrote. "I, also, have done some reflection, and have seen this group of players turn into a cohesive team of young men! Our coaches have also done a fantastic job of keeping the players focused, prepared and ready to climb any obstacle. My hat is off to all of them! Without this tremendous spirit, heart and attitude, we have nothing."

The 2012 Tigers are continuing a successful trend for Dunsmuir ever since they went to 8-man football in 2008:

• In 2008, Dunsmuir posted a 7-4 overall record and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

• In 2009, they went 10-2 and lost in the semifinals to the team (Westwood) that lost the championship game to Hayfork.

• In 2010, Kellar's first year at the helm, the Tigers went 9-3 and lost in the semifinals to eventual section champion Hayfork.

• In 2011, Dunsmuir went 11-2, both losses to Butte Valley, including a 38-34 defeat in the section championship game.

• In 2012, Dunsmuir takes an 11-1 record into the championship game, a rematch of the game that decided the league championship.

"These young men should be proud of who they are, and what they have become as a team!" Kellar said after the semifinal win at Loyalton. "I know that I can be hard to work with at times, however I love each and every one of these players and coaches. They put up with me and work so hard to be the best that they can be! Their enthusiasm, work ethic and desire have put them once again on the final stage to become Section Champions! I applaud the Dunsmuir Tigers!"