Mariners fall short of state championship

  • Homer senior Teddy Croft (8) walks off the field with a group of teammates Saturday while the Utqiagvik Whalers celebrate in the ASAA First National Bank Division III state championship at Machetanz Field in Palmer. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
  • Homer sophomore Noah Fisk (right) tries to evade a pair of Utqiagvik tacklers Saturday in the ASAA First National Bank Division III state championship at Machetanz Field in Palmer. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
  • Homer senior Chris Cudaback (48) tackles Utqiagvik running back Ben Heather Saturday in the ASAA First National Bank Division III state championship at Machetanz Field in Palmer. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
  • Homer residents watch a livestream of the ASAA First National Bowl Series Division III Football State Championship game in Palmer on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 at the Homer Theatre. The Mariners lost to Barrow High School 20-14. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • Homer residents watch with rapt attention the varsity football team’s state championship game against Barrow High School on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 at the Homer Theatre, where it was livestreamed for those who weren’t able to travel to the game’s location in Barrow. The Mariners fell short at the ASAA First National Bowl Series Division III Football State Championship game, 20-14. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • Homer senior Teddy Croft (8) pitches a handoff to a teammate with Utqiagvik’s Oneahi Talaiasi (52) pressuring him Saturday in the ASAA First National Bank Division III state championship at Machetanz Field in Palmer. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
  • Homer residents watch Walter Love, head coach of the varsity football team, speak on the sidelines of the ASAA First National Bowl Series Division III Football State Championship game in Palmer on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 during a livestream event at the Homer Theatre. The Mariners lost to Barrow High School 20-14. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
  • Homer quarterback Teddy Croft (8) gets a block from teammate Dawson Felde Saturday in the ASAA First National Bank Division III state championship against Utqiagvik at Machetanz Field in Palmer. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

The Mariners fell short of what would have been their first Division III football state championship in school history on Saturday, losing to Barrow High School 20-14 in their game in Palmer.

Homer had a promising start when senior Justin Sumption scored the first touchdown of the game in the first quarter, but the team wasn’t able to hold the lead for long. The ASAA First National Bowl Series Division III Football State Championship game started slowly, with the Whalers leading the Mariners by only one point, 7-6, at the half.

It was a game with relatively few points on the board when compared to the rest of Homer’s season, in which they managed to score more than 30 points in seven of their 10 games and often kept their opposers from scoring any points at all. Homer had defeated Barrow earlier this season 26-14.

“What do you do, you know?” said head coach Walter Love. “You play the game, and they were able to put us away.”

Love said the loss came down to fundamentals and that the Mariners made mistakes they couldn’t afford to make, like fumbles and turning the ball over to Barrow on a number of occasions.

“And when you play a team the caliber of Barrow, you can’t make mistakes,” he said.

After the Whalers scored two touchdowns in the second and third quarters, respectively, Homer senior Teddy Croft came through with what people like to call “Mariner magic,” returning a kickoff from Barrow back across the field for a touchdown just as the third quarter was ending.

“We had some great plays,” Love said. “We just didn’t have enough of them.”

Barrow came back with their third and final touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter, made by junior Ben Heather for a 9-yard gain, pulling ahead of Homer 20-14. While it looked like the Mariners might manage to tie the game up 20-20, especially after senior Joe Ravin intercepted a Whalers pass, they were held off by the Barrow defense and the clock ran out.

“We just ran out of time to get the play in,” Love said of that final push.

While cheerleaders and family egged the Mariners on from the stands and sideline in Palmer, the team had no shortage of support from afar as dozens of fans filed into the Homer Theatre on Saturday morning, where the game was streamed live on the big screen.

“That was amazing,” Love said of the live streaming event. “I was just so blown away, so happy to know that they were able to get in there and see that.”

Domenic Cordle, who has kids who have gone through and are currently in Homer High School but none on the football team, said he just really wanted a venue in town for people to watch the game, and that it snowballed from there.

“First I approached GCI, because … they’re the only ones that I knew that … (could) make it happen,” he said. “So I talked to them and then I talked to Colleen here at the theatre, and we just made it happen.”

Cordle said he was thinking about the town’s older alumni who were still interested in the football team and those whose schedules prevented them from getting up to Palmer when he thought about providing a place to watch the game.

“I think it’s amazing. I think it’s way cool,” Cordle said of the team making it to the championship game. “Again, it’s a small town thing. Any time this happens in a small town it’s a big deal, as it should be.”

Colleen Carroll, the theater’s manager, said the event got pulled together within a matter of days after getting the call from Cordle.

“It’s football, it’s our home town team,” she said. “And, yeah, I think it’s great to have everybody in one venue.”

Standing out front at the concession stand, Carroll and her staff would occasionally rush back to peek into the theatre when they heard the enthusiastic cheers coming from spectators young and old.

Love said that, all things considered at the end of the day, his team played hard and he couldn’t have asked more of them.

“These are the days you live for,” he said. “You know, just great football days.”

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@homernews.com.

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