Charging into their first conference game of the season, the Homer Mariners met a formidable foe in the Kodiak Bears on Saturday. Short a few players and clearly outnumbered, the Mariners lost 8-26, but are gearing up to take the field this Saturday in a game against the Kenai Kardinals.
“There were some first-game jitters, some learning, some seeing what the guys can and can’t do,” said Mariner Head Coach Josh Fraley. “That’s pretty common.”
Also hurting the game was the loss of senior Gabriel Selbig, an offensive wide receiver and defensive linebacker, who broke his arm during practice earlier in the week.
“That was kind of a big loss, a big morale hit,” said Fraley.
The lack of team members resulted in Fraley turning to freshmen “that really should have never seen the field in a varsity game, but they stepped up because of the injuries,” he said. “I was pleased with the team we had out there for the most part. They really showed a lot of heart.”
Kodiak Coach Jim Schnick said, “Homer is a tough team. It always has been. We didn’t know what to expect, but knew they had a new coach and it was the first game of the season.”
The Mariners kicked off at the start of the game, putting Saturday afternoon’s day breeze to their backs.
“The defense played tough through the first quarter, but our offense wasn’t able to get much going,” said Fraley. “(Kodiak) had some big old boys on that side. They were definitely playing us tough.”
With the two teams going toe-to-toe and neither one managing to score, Fraley used the first quarter to try to find the Bears’ weaknesses.
The pace picked up in the second quarter. When the Mariners turned up the pressure, Kodiak fumbled the ball in their own end zone and Homer picked up two points on a safety.
“We had quite a bit more success in the second quarter on our running game,” said Fraley, adding that the Mariners kept the Bears pinned in their own territory throughout the quarter.
A touchdown by Kodiak in the third quarter gave the Bears 6 points, and a brief lead before Mariner sophomore Josh Fisk scored a touchdown, putting Homer back on top with 8.
With only 15 players to draw on, during the third quarter Fraley noticed signs of the Mariners beginning to lose steam.
“I was seeing some dropped passes and blocks that weren’t made. The tackling was loose and not very fundamentally sound. They just started wearing down,” said Fraley. “Then (Kodiak) put 20 points on the board in the fourth quarter. That was pretty tough.”
Mariner Drew Brown, wide receiver on the offensive end and safety on defensive plays, “played a phenomenal game,” said Fraley. Brown played some football his freshman year, took off his sophomore year, but is back for his junior year.
Fraley also noted quarterback Sheldon Hutt’s skill at play-calling and keeping the tempo of the game going.
“He made sure the guys hustled in and out of the huddle and adjusted to plays depending on the defense,” said Fraley.
Of the Kodiak team, Fraley said, “You could definitely tell that they were well coached. They had been practicing.”
In addition, the Bears had almost twice as many players as the Mariners.
“I think that was the single biggest factor of the game,” said Fraley. “They were able to get some fresh bodies in there, keep the kids fresh.”
Before Saturday’s game against Kenai, Homer will have some additional players returning having completed the required number of practices.
“I’m happy to be getting kids that are knowledgeable back this week,” said Fraley. “That will give the guys some breaks.”
Saturday was volunteer coach Gary Dahlberg’s first and last game with the Mariners. Visiting the area from Minnesota, Dahlberg said it has been his 40-year dream to come to Alaska.
After a 35-year career in education, he retired in June and decided to seek out his Alaska adventure. After arriving in Homer, he made contact with Fraley and volunteered to help get the team in shape for this year’s football season.
As a sign of appreciation, the Mariners gave Dahlberg a team shirt during Saturday’s game.
“I love the kids here,” he said. “They’re a lot like my own sons. This has been a dream come true.”
On Saturday, the Mariners take on the Kardinals in Homer, with the junior varsity game at noon and the varsity game at 3 p.m.
“I expect to see a lot more people there with a peninsula team coming down,” said Fraley, anticipating a large crowd of fans for both teams. “Kenai and Soldotna are our big rivals every year. There’s no love lost between us and Kenai.”
Mariner sophomore Hunter Harris, defensive end and offensive tackle, also anticipated it will be an exciting game.
“Kodiak played a hell of a game. So did we,” he said. “This week we’ll be working on our passing, blocking, everything. Expect a change by (Saturday).”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.