It was a disappointing finish to a year marked by improvement for the Mariner football team.
The Eielson Ravens earned trip No. 3 to the state championship game with a 62-0 win over the Homer Mariners in a small schools state semifinal last Saturday afternoon at Buck Nystrom Field at Eielson High School on Eielson Air Force Base.
Despite the big loss, Homer Head Coach Josh Fraley could find the silver lining in what he described as a “pretty dark cloud.”
“They were the state champions last year,” Fraley said of Eielson. “I imagine they will be again this year. If you’re going to lose, it’s good to know you went down to one of the best.”
The lopsided score doesn’t tell the heart of the story. The score was 41-0 at halftime, and during the second half the Mariners worked hard to hold their own.
With the final score at 62-0, the Mariners cut the Ravens’ production in half — without the Ravens pulling starters or reducing their effort, said Fraley.
“They played their hardest. That’s all you can ask for as a coach,” he said.
For the third time in four years, Eielson faces the Nikiski Bulldogs for the state title, starting at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Dimond High School’s Alumni Field in Anchorage. Eielson defeated Nikiski for the title in 2012 and last year.
Nikiski advanced to the state final after downing the Barrow Whalers 41-18 in Nikiski in the other small-schools semifinal on Saturday.
In last Saturday’s action, senior Josh Fisk ran nine times for 87 yards for the Mariners, who finished the season 4-5.
The Mariners, despite the Ravens pulling away, continued to try to move the ball on offense and play intensely on defense.
“Unfortunately, we were on the side of several games like this; so it wasn’t unnatural for us,” Fraley said. “We have kids that have tremendous heart and they’ve always been big hitters. I’m extremely proud of these kids; even though the score got out of hand, they didn’t give up. They were still trying to do the best they can.
“We just got beat by a better team today, but I’m real proud of these kids,’’ he continued. “It’s tough to have our seniors go out like this, but that’s football.”
Mariners sophomore quarterback Teddy Croft completed four of 13 passes for 41 yards with the two interceptions. Fellow sophomore Dawson Felde made two catches for 31 yards and Fisk had two receptions for 10 yards.
The team spirit and work ethic displayed by his players last weekend gives Fraley hope that the Mariners have a strong foundation to build on in the coming years, particularly since this year showed improvement over the last couple of years.
The Mariners finished their regular season play with a 4-4 record. That’s better than their 2014 record of 3-5; and a 2013 record o 2-6.
“The fact that they made the playoffs is a step in right direction,” he said.
Fraley paid tribute to the eight seniors who played on the team: Josh Fisk, Michael Swoboda, Ralph Mitchell, Greg Smith , Zach McKenna, James Krasecski, Wyatt Harshfield and Alex Stephens. He also applauded the younger players who saw plenty of playing time, even in last week’s playoff game.
While the Mariners didn’t make it to state, he praised the team as a “really good tightknit group of kids.” He also thanked the community, the parents, the booster club and the cheerleaders for their support and for their help in making it a good season.
“That support always makes for stronger team,” he said.
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Correction: Player No. 48 was incorrectly identified in a photo that ran in the Oct. 8 Homer News. Sophomore Christopher Cudaback was filling in for Zach McKenna and was the person pictured in the play.
The Homer News regrets the error.