• Mariner defense gives up 62 points as Soldotna steamrolls to State title
By Sean Pearson
For a brief moment on Saturday, Homer football fans caught a glimpse of that highly coveted, yet ever-so-elusive State football title at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium in Chugiak.
Facing off against the Soldotna Stars in a snowy and frigid medium-school championship battle, the Mariners looked almost unstoppable as they marched 64 yards downfield in their opening drive.
Unfortunately, they were indeed stoppable, as Soldotna’s defense mounted a formidable goal-line stand, choking out the Homer charge to take over the ball on downs.
For the M’s, it was relatively downhill from there as the Stars rolled on to a 62-20 victory.
Soldotna pounded in four second-quarter touchdowns to lead 34-0 at the half, effectively shutting down the Mariner offense and squashing their early momentum. The score was 55-6 after three quarters, but Homer wasn’t ready to give up.
Two passing touchdowns from Mariner sophomore quarterback Sheldon Hutt to tight end Tommy Bowe in the fourth quarter brought Homer’s point total to 20 for the game. But it was too little, too late.
SoHi’s offense racked up 31 first downs and 447 rushing yards in the win, while Homer finished with 11 first down, 125 yards rushing and 193 yards in the air.
Snowfall and freezing temperatures made holding onto the ball a bit difficult, as the two teams combined for eight fumbles.
“The weather was tough,” said Homer junior running back Joseph Cardoza. “It was very, very icy, which made the ball very slippery.”
Traction on the field was surprisingly good.
“With the turf under that snow, it wasn’t too bad,” Bowe said of the conditions. “It was cold and there were a few bad cuts from ice, but other than that, the fans were probably the ones suffering the most.”
Bowe picked up 176 yards on eight receptions, as well as another 16 yards on the ground.
“I was honestly just so excited to finally be thrown to, I wanted to make every target a big play,” Bowe said. “I feel like, even though we lost, it was one of the funnest games we played all year. And I don’t think we could have been any better prepared for SoHi than we were.”
“We were mostly playing for pride, especially with everything that had happened to our team,” Cardoza said. “We really had nothing to lose coming into the State game.”
Bowe said the team’s main focus for the night was to follow the game plan and execute plays cleanly. And it was just understood that everyone would leave everything on the field for this game.
Cardoza said he told his teammates to just go out and have some fun.
“Sometimes we get so into the game, we lose focus and just don’t have fun,” he said. “Football is a game, and in order to play it and play it well, you must have fun.”
Cardoza said he was very proud of everyone who played, especially the freshmen and players who had to adjust to new positions.
“I’d like to give a big shout-out to Sheldon Hutt, who learned he would have to play quarterback less than a week before the state game,” Cardoza said. “He performed way beyond my expectations, finishing with like 193 yards passing. He stepped up big.”
Homer’s football program faced a number of trials this season, most of which involved underage alcohol consumption at youth parties and a homecoming dance. Some team members were suspended for being in violation of team and Alaska School Activities Association regulations surrounding underage drinking.
Two current Homer players were arrested for second-degree sexual assault at one party, sparking a variety of reactions from the community.
“This year has been so hard,” Cardoza explained. “But the bond I have with the rest of the team — even the players who may no longer be on the team — is unbreakable. We are a family and we play as a family; fighting for each other inch by inch.”
Cardoza said team members are learning that they can forgive and forget; something many of them are trying to do now.
“As a team, we really hope our community doesn’t look down on us,” he said. “Yes, individuals made mistakes, but the other 30-plus kids on the team did not.”
Cardoza acknowledged that the State loss and difficult season will be tough on seniors who were finishing out their high school careers.
“But, as for those of us who will be back next year, well, we plan to come back hard.”
Homer 0 0 6 14 — 20
Soldotna 7 27 21 7 — 62
Soldotna — Homer
First downs 31 — 11
Rushes-yards 46-59 — 42-125
Passing yards 74 — 193
Return yards 0 — 101
Passes 6-14-1 — 9-20-0
Punts 0-0 — 2-26.5
Fumbles-lost 2-2 — 6-4
Penalties-yards 5-60 — 6-65
Homer Individual Stats
Rushing: Hutt 14-32; Reutov 4-5; Cardoza 9-72; Bowe 5-16
Passing: Hutt 9-20-0-193
Receiving: Bowe 8-176; Reutov 1-17
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