It’s a year of firsts for the Homer Mariners.
After clinching their first ever Division III Peninsula Conference title last month, the team rose to new heights Saturday when it defeated Ben Eielson High School in a semifinal playoff game in Homer 33-21, advancing to the ASAA First National Bowl Series Division III Championship next week. The Mariners are now 8-1 overall and 7-1 for their regular season, another first in school history.
The Mariners last made an appearance at a state championship game in 2012, when they were still part of Division II, and lost to Soldotna High School.
“It’s been an amazing trip, and we look forward to one more game,” said head coach Walter Love.
The Mariners held off the Ravens, who were the three-time reigning state champs. Homer came out strong with two touchdowns in the first quarter and another in the second, leading the game 21-0 at the half.
Sophomore Noah Fisk scored three of the team’s five touchdowns, running in the first one of the game for a 2-yard gain. He was followed by senior Joe Ravin, who scored on a 75-yard pass from quarterback Teddy Croft. Fisk scored the third touchdown with another 2-yard gain.
Eielson made a run at a comeback in the second half with a touchdown in the third quarter and two in the fourth. Sophomore Payton DeVaughn completed a pass to junior Jaydenn Manibusan, who ran the ball 9 yards for the team’s first touchdown. DeVaughn then made another pass to senior Jeremiah Brown for a 10-yard gain and another touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Not to be caught, the Mariners pushed back with another touchdown by Ravin on a pass from Croft, bringing the score to 27-14. Eielson made another touchdown via junior Jiro Dabashi-Noa, bringing it to 27-21, before the Mariners closed out the game with their final touchdown with just 2 minutes left on the clock, a 42-yard run by Fisk.
Overall, Homer had 160 passing yards to Eielson’s 90, but 295 rushing yards to Eielson’s 311. Fisk led the Mariners for total tackles with 13, followed by Croft and Chris Cudaback with 10 each. Eielson made 44 total tackles compared to Homer’s 78. Brown lead the tackling for the Ravens with 10, followed by Manibusan with eight.
Love said the Mariners were not without their mistakes Saturday.
“A lot of rookie errors,” he said. “You know, some young boys up front … got our linebackers caught in the wash and, you know, we just have to fix it.”
The Mariners will now face off against Barrow High School at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Palmer for the ASAA First National Bowl Series Division III Championship. Barrow currently rests at 6-2 overall. The Mariners already defeated Barrow in their second game of the season 26-14.
Love said it’s back to the drawing board for the team ahead of the championship game. He also said the Ravens gave his players a run for their money. Eielson is one of only four teams out of nine to score points against the Mariners this season.
“When you play Eielson, you’re playing your best game,” he said. “(If) you don’t come to play and expect them to play, you’re gonna lose. We knew they were going to come out and be tough — they’ve got great coaches, they’ve got great players.”
In a new move for the Mariners players, most of the teammates took the field Saturday with bleached blond hair. It’s a tradition Love brought with him from coaching in Oklahoma for when a team makes it to the playoffs.
“It’s kind of to show everyone that there’s no individuals,” he said. “We all look the same, we dress the same, we act the same. … We’re one team, one unit.”
Love said he had little to do with the tradition when it came to the Mariners, and that it was his son, senior Sean Love, who spread the idea to the team.
“As soon as (the) Redington (game) was over, the locker room was full of bleaching products,” he said with a laugh. “It was chaos.”