Southeast Conference winner Thunder Mountain (3-5 overall, 3-1 league) is chomping at the bit to get a second crack at Northern Lights Conference No. 2 seed Homer Mariners (7-1, 4-1), a squad that laid an 84-20 hurting on the Falcons in August’s second week of the season.
“It is redemption time,” TMHS head coach Bill Byouer said of their first home playoff game. “I have a bad taste in my mouth and want to avenge that loss. We are the big time underdog. We have nothing to lose.”
Underdog is an understatement. The Falcons’ season has seemingly been played in a war zone rather than on a football field, as injuries have been the one constant in a talented athletic contingent.
“We had high expectations coming into this season,” Byouer said. “And we took some serious hits this year.”
Senior wide receiver Eric Reyna and sophomore running back Joseph Ia (shoulder) were hurt at Gold Beach Football Camp. Reyna would miss the first three games and Ia one.
Senior wide receiver Dylan Mielke, who missed last season due to knee surgery, stained his knee pre-season and has been out of action.
Senior lineman Jordan Hakala suffered a concussion in week one against Juneau-Douglas. Hakala recently passed the ASAA required impact test and is not allowed to make full contact but can kick for the playoffs.
Senior lineman Aaron Corcoran played in the first season game but has been severely hampered by knee pain. He appeared in a must win game against Sitka to secure the conference title. Corcoran put on his uniform after halftime to provide the spark. It is unknown if his knees will allow field time tonight.
Junior wide receiver Chris Mack was lost for the season to a concussion against JDHS. Senior lineman Paul Strickler suffered a hand tendon injury against Ketchikan. Senior lineman Matt Abrahms suffered a finger injury and Junior WR/DB Sam Jahn suffered a possible concussion, both against Renton last week. Jahn showed no symptoms on Monday.
The junior all-purpose position Tupou twins, Josh and Vili, have been out the past two games due to a family funeral in Tonga. Vili also suffered a hairline ankle fracture earlier.
Junior running back John Jolly missed two games with a knee injury; Ia was lost for another week; Junior Greg Gilchrest was lost to a herniated disc in his back; Senior running back James Gilchrest broke his foot; Senior lineman Jorge Vasquez missed three weeks due to a shoulder injury against JDHS and sophomore Fullback Brock Cary recovered from a hamstring injury, then ruptured his spleen against Nikiski in Kenai.
“At the awards banquet I will have to get some big bag of bandages,” Byouer said. “I think the cheerleaders have been okay.”
Even Byouer was not immune to catastrophe, hospitalized in Sitka after suffering a possible heart attack.
“The test results were all fine,” Byouer said. “It was a good false alarm. I have never encountered so many injuries. So underdog? Absolutely. We are not a bad team, but we have never been able to keep the same players on the field on consecutive weeks.”
If the Falcons advance they would play the winner of NLC No. 1 seed Soldotna (8-0, 5-0) and NLC No. 3 seed Kenai (4-4, 3-2). The Falcons lost to Soldotna 55-20 in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Homer’s only loss this season was to Soldotna. Realistically, the Mariners may not try to change too much of the formula that accounted for the lopsided win on Thunder Mountain Field in week two and avenged last seasons 23-12 loss to the Falcons. That could work in TMHS’s favor.
Homer brings the double wing offense and a senior laden roster. Their offense has been successful this season with time consuming drives and short yardage poundage that wears opponents down. Coached by Camron Wyatt, the Mariners option quarterback Derek Johnson and fullback Dyllan Day through the middle.
“We are limping in, but we are going to run through the playoffs,” Byouer said. “We are looking forward to Homer. My kids will play hard and get the job done. We have this first game and then the state finals.”
Continued Byouer, “I want the community to come support us at 6 o’clock. Sorry that we haven’t had a great season, but I don’t see the fans. Have you lost love for me? What is up? I know there are a lot of fans out there and we need the support, we need the blue wave. Dress in blue and silver.”