The Homer Mariners and the Voznesenka Cougars reached the end of their football seasons last week, missing the play-offs by the Mariners’ 18-6 loss to the Houston Hawks at Houston and the Cougars’ 41-14 loss to the Eielson Ravens in Homer. Both games were played on Friday.
Houston 18, Homer 6
“The guys played very hard,” said Head Coach Josh Fraley. “It turned out to have been a couple of turnovers making the difference, but it was a well played game.”
It was toe-to-toe in the first quarter, with neither team getting onto the scoreboard until the second quarter, when Houston took a 3-0 lead. Homer came back with a touchdown from quarterback Sheldon Hutt to Josh Fisk, giving Homer a 6-3 lead.
The Mariners’ lead didn’t last long, however, with the Hawks grabbing another touchdown before halftime. One more in the second half gave Houston its 18-6 victory and a ticket to the playoffs.
“That first half was a back and forth battle,” said Fraley. “(Hutt) had a really good first half throwing the ball. They were efficient, completing passes with the guys catching them. And then we started slipping up.”
In the second half, the Mariners’ weaknesses began to surface.
“They started bringing pressure on (Hutt) and we were unable to pick it up with blocks. … We started to make some mistakes.”
A fair share of Mariner fans made the drive north to cheer for the team.
“It was a fun game to watch,” said Fraley of the close and fierce action between the two teams. “It just came down to our team didn’t perform efficiently enough. We gave them too many opportunities.”
With the game against Houston “definitely a winnable game,” Fraley said the Mariners were “quite bummed out” with their loss. “It’s always one thing to get beaten because you’re not the better team or are out-manned. But when you beat yourself, it’s tough. That was definitely a lot of the story there on Friday.”
Taking it the hardest were the team’s four seniors.
“They all played with a lot of emotion during the game. They played very hard,” said Fraley.
Just because it was the Mariners last football game of the 2013 season doesn’t mean the work is over. There is equipment to inventory, game results to review, game videos to decipher. For the players wanting to return to the field next year, weightlifting began on Monday.
“That’ll make a peak difference,” said Fraley. “Actually, this is the first year we’ll have a structured off-season workout. Hopefully that’ll help us be a lot more competitive during the (2014) season. … There’s always someone out there working harder than you. If you’re out there sitting on your duff, you won’t get anything done.”
Looking back over his first season as head coach, Fraley said he was “honored to be coaching with them.” He also thanked the community for the support.
“We always tried to put on a good show and be successful and this year it was tough, but the fans were great,” said Fraley.
With the addition of a new turf field planned for the 2014 season, Fraley said, “It’s going to be an exciting year next year and we’re going to make sure we can back it up on the field, do as much as we can to be successful and bring that intensity and winning attitude.”
Eielson 41, Voznesenka 14
“It was a hard fought game,” Voznesenka Head Coach Justin Zank said of the Cougar’s Friday battle against the Eielson Ravens. “I think it was the best we have played all year, especially the first half.”
Wrapping up their first year of conference play, Zank said some changes in the Cougar’s strategy might have caught the Ravens off guard.
“I’m not sure Eielson was ready for how we played,” said Zank. “We scrapped the spread we have been using most of the year on offense and ran it right at them.”
He praised the Cougar’s defensive effort and ground attack.
“The score might not show it but our defense played beyond itself,” he said. “The game was closer than the score indicates. We were swarm-tackling and hitting hard.”
Dennis Martishev had an all-around good game, rushing the ball 31 times for 182 yards and 13.5 tackles on defense with two forced fumbles and a recovery. Avraam Kalugin rushed the ball 65 yards on the ground and another 63 in the air.
“We kept hitting hard until the end of the game,’ said Zank. “We never gave up.”
Although it would have been nice to make it into the playoffs, it was all in all a successful season for the Cougars.
“There are several games in which I wish we had been more competitive, but that is something that will come,” he said.
Friday’s game was the last for five of the team’s seniors, but Zank anticipated bringing back a “pretty good core group of kids” for 2014.
“You can expect us to continue to get better,’ he said. “I hope we play every game next year as we did against Eielson. Hard hitting, bruising football.”
Wrestling begins at Voznesenka this week, with Zank also coaching that sport. Wrestling also gives the football players another avenue for staying active.
“Look for Gavril Kalugin on the wrestling mat,” said Zank. “He placed sixth last year at state at 113 pounds.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.