When you face a team called the “Whalers” that plays football in some of Alaska’s toughest weather, you know you’re up against a formidable foe. The Mariners are not a team to back away from a challenge, however. On Saturday, they came away with their first win of the season and a score of 30-12.
“Yeah, we are pretty happy. It was a fun game,” Coach Josh Fraley said by phone from Barrow on Saturday night.
In the first quarter, the Mariners got the ball and scored a touchdown on a Josh Fisk run, followed by a two-point conversion.
“Then we kicked off to them and our defense shut them down and we scored again,” said Fraley of the Mariners taking a 14-0 advantage early in the game.
The Whalers were quick to take advantage of a Mariner fumble and put Barrow on the board, 14-6.
“They were able to punch it on a short run, but didn’t get the conversion,” said Fraley.”
Before halftime, with the Whalers positioned on the one-yard line, Homer’s Michael Swoboda wrapped the Barrow quarterback up, teammate Shelton Hutt managed an interception and “ran all the way back for 99 yards,” said Fraley. “It was awesome. I’ve got it on film to show for confirmation, but I’m pretty sure it’s a school record.”
Like the Seattle Seahawks’ 12th man, their fans, Barrow also has a 12th man, the weather. It factors large in the outcome of games, but, as was the case Saturday, isn’t quite as loyal as the Seahawks’ fan base.
“The entire first half, the weather was amazing. Probably about 40 degrees with the wind blowing two to three miles an hour. Not bad,” said Fraley. “And then it started to pick up in the second half. Started to snow pretty heavily. Especially in the fourth quarter. Wet heavy flakes. But it worked out in our favor because at that point we had the lead and they had to throw it a lot.”
While Barrow’s bright blue and gold turf field is impressive, snow on top of turf can a bit slippery. Throw in some wind and things become even trickier. Adjusting their game plan, the Whalers took advantage of a fumble by Hutt and drove the ball down the field to within the five-yard line. Cranking up the defense, the Mariners stopped the Whalers three plays in a row.
“We wrapped up the guy for a sack and he was falling, but threw the ball up in the air and they caught it for a touchdown,” said Fraley of the score climbing to 22-12.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, the Mariners scooped up the ball after a Whaler fumble and ran it for a touchdown.
“It was an exciting game. Intense the whole way,” said Fraley. “We won it on the backs of our defense, for sure. They took the ball so many times and gave the offense plenty of time to be on the field.”
Fraley, along with Assistant Head Coach Rick Alexander and volunteer coach Terry Sumption, traveled with 19 Mariners to the top of the state. Cost of traveling from Homer to Barrow was eased by the hospitality extended. Having three meals a day provided to the team in a community where a gallon of milk costs $12 “saved us a lot of money,” said Fraley. “From the fans to the athletic staff, everybody was very, very awesome. They are great people to be around. Really kind, supportive. It’s been a very, very good trip.”
The Mariners leave Homer on Friday for a 12-hour bus ride to Valdez where they will play the Buccaneers.
On Aug. 28, the Mariners JV team played the Nikiski Bulldogs JV team in Nikiski, and scored a 22-0 victory.
“The young guys played really, really good,” said Fraley. “It’s looking bright (for the Mariners) for the next couple of years.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.