The Homer Mariners lost narrowly in a conference playoff heartbreaker Saturday afternoon against the Kenai Kardinals, 16-21.
“I’m really proud of my guys. I thought they left everything out there on that field,” Homer coach Justin Zank said Sunday. “Probably the best game we played all season, everyone working together to try to make it happen.”
The Mariners were in control of the game for most of the afternoon, until a myriad of mistakes from Homer and a late surge by Kenai turned the game in the Kardinals’ favor.
Homer’s defense looked formidable early on, bringing relentless pressure against Kenai, causing several errors in the Kards’ offense and keeping them off-balance for most of the afternoon.
Homer caused four turnovers — two fumbles, two interceptions — the most notable of them being a 45-yard interception returned for a touchdown from linebacker Jake Tappan right before halftime.
Zank pointed to standout defensive play from Clark Milstead and Donovan Milstead, as well as Nathan Overson and Oak Anderson. They sustained Homer’s 8-0 lead for much of the third quarter.
The Kardinals had yet to get on the scoreboard until a 3-yard touchdown dive from all-Conference Kenai running back Robert Hayes late in the third.
Mariners wide receiver Chris Martishev took the score back with an early rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, and with quarterback Preston Stanislaw scoring the two-point conversion to make it 16-8, once again it looked as if Homer had the game secured and were cruising to a second straight state championship title appearance.
However, after punting the ball back to Kenai with just three minutes left in the game, Homer gave up a 52-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 3rd and 11 touchdown scramble from Kards quarterback Zeke Yragui to give the Kardinals a chance to tie. The Mariners defense came up big on the next play, denying Kenai the two-point conversion to leave the score 16-14 with just a minute left to play.
Despite the dwindling clock for Kenai, a late mistake for the Homer special teams unit spelled disaster for the Mariners. The Kardinals attempted an onside kick and successfully recovered, contributing to Homer’s only other turnover of the day.
With less than a minute left, the Kardinals put together a game-winning drive, sealed with a late touchdown pass from Yragui connecting with Hayes with just 17.2 seconds left on the clock.
Zank said that the Mariners came into the game with the belief that they would be successful, and he said it was that belief that kept the team going, especially through the ups and downs of the fourth quarter. He said, ultimately, it was mistakes that added up and cost them the game.
“This is gonna be a tough one to shake for a very long time,” he said.
Homer’s season is ended, and Zank said that they’re going to be seeing a lot of turnover as starters graduate — on offense and defense. He said they’ll be looking to coach up their younger talent for next year.