Thunder Mountain’s season ended in heartbreak Friday in a 46-6 loss to Homer in the semifinals of the medium-sized schools state football championships.
The win extends an improbable season for Homer, which according to Coach Cam Wyatt has never made the playoffs. He said this squad holds the best record in the program’s history. It brought tears to the Thunder Mountain sideline and a team that refused to give up in spite of lingering injuries.
“This is a great team,” senior quarterback Camden Thomas said about his Falcons after the game. “They never once gave up on me or anybody else. Our line kept pushing all game, our receivers fought for every ball.”
The Falcons weathered the first quarter. Neither team could mount a significant drive. Homer took the opening kick off and on the first play all-state running back Dyllan Day fumbled and TMHS senior Erik Reyna recovered at the 38-yard-line of the Mariners. Falcons’ John Jolly and Thomas made small rushes but an incomplete pass on fourth-and-14 gave the ball back to Homer.
The Falcons defense, weakened through the season by injury, gave a little but stayed strong. Sam Jahn and Reyna stopped Day in the backfield and the Falcons resumed possession.
The rain hardened, the temperatures dropped, and the players crept up and down the field. Each time a drive seemed inevitable a flag brought the play back. On fourth-and-22 Jolly was stopped on an end around, the Falcons’ punt was blocked and although the Mariners didn’t advance they began to control the line of scrimmage.
Homer fumbled and just when it looked brightest for the Falcons’ Sam Jahn went into the air for a pass, the ball was tipped, Jahn was injured and Homer’s Zac Fraley made the catch and ran to the Falcons’ 19-yard-line.
On the first play of the second quarter Day ran into the end zone and Robin Glosser kept the ball for a two-point conversion and an 8-0 advantage.
“This is the best group of guys I have played with,” Homer’s Day said after the game. “I have been playing for 10 years and these are the boys I want to do it with. I wouldn’t trade them for anybody. As long as we stay together we can go through anything. I am just excited to be in the state championship game.”
The ensuing Falcons’ kickoff return featured Joe Ia bringing the ball back to the Mariner 24. Jolly ran for six yards, Thomas kept to the 19 and Jolly picked up five more. Thomas kept again but another penalty made it second and 17 and on a pass attempt Glosser, doubling as a corner back, intercepted the throw.
With the ball on Homer’s 14-yard line, the Mariners Tayler Downes made a first play rush of 85 yards to the end zone and Hoss Frank pounded over the line for the two-point conversion.
With 5:39 remaining in the second quarter Thomas’ pass found Ben Jahn for the perfect moment and lighted the Falcons’ side of the scoreboard.
Both teams gave up the ball again. Villi Topou led two teammates into the Mariner backfield to shut down Day. Homer fumbled and TMHS gave the ball back on an interception.
The Mariners began a series of direct snaps to various players in their backfield and Day danced 19 yards for a score and converted the try to give Homer a 24-6 halftime lead.
“I knew Thunder Mountain would be 100 percent different and they would come after us,” HHS head coach Cam Wyatt said after the game. “And they did. To have the season they had and then to come back and play a game like this, winner takes all, that is why we play high school football. Character. My hats off to Thunder Mountain.”
A first half marred by three Mariner fumbles and three Falcon interceptions went in opposite directions after the break.
“We have three words we live by in our program: honesty, integrity and courage,” Wyatt said. “You give a full day for a full day’s pay. We work on that. That is what we do in our program. We run an offense that is simple and based upon hard work. I love to brag about my kids. They have taken the program further than anybody else.”
Wyatt said his players gave up summer jobs in the offseason to practice together and become a family of 24 people working for a trip to the “big show.”
The Homer family took the second half’s opening kickoff, continued by a Falcons’ penalty, down field. Day scored on a one-yard plunge with Downes converting for a 32-6 Mariners advantage. After a Thunder Mountain drive was stopped by a penalty call, the Mariners took over on their own 20 and Glosser kept for an 80-yard rumble through the upright Falcons’ defense and Downs converted again for a 40-6 tally.
The Falcons’ next drive ended on a tipped pass and interception by Franks. The Mariners work the clock and the ball to the Falcons’ three as the third quarter ends.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Gloss hits Erik Rosencrans on a 3-yard TD pass for a 46-6 Homer lead. The conversion failed. The Mariners set up an onside kick and recovered.
Neither side works the ball efficiently until the final three minutes. The Falcons show what could have been as Matt Abrahms recovers a fumble caused by a Topou hit at the Homer 38. Sam Jahn goes 16 yards to the Homer 22. Jolly rushes to the 15, then the 12 and finally the six. Another no gain and an Ia pass broken up. On third and goal Thomas’ pass is dropped in the end zone.
The Falcons call time out with seven seconds remaining in the season.
A chance for another “could have been moment” comes again. Thomas’ arm moved forward, his wrist snapped, his fingers spread, and his body follows in the wake of the movement begun. The rain parted as if it were sweat from the ball itself, thrown off and aside by torque. Floodlights traced a path the ball would follow. The receiver fast enough to become one with the space the spinning ball occupies.
The orchestra is almost complete. At the last breath before the last note a defender’s hand tips the ball, like brushing a hair from the receiver’s face. A hush. The ball loose and alone on the wet turf. The game over and the season complete.
“We made mistakes here and there,” Thomas said. “But we never gave up. Our underclassmen will work as hard as they can in the offseason.”
Said TMHS head coach Bill Byouer said. “We were the underdog. Our kids fought hard all year. We had kids injured here tonight. These are quality, classy kids with heart that never quit. We got beat. We got beat. Homer is a good team. It is hard for our seniors going out with a loss and it is a taste our juniors and sophomores will not want to repeat.”
How they scored:
Homer – 11:59, Dyllan Day 6-yard run (Robin Glosser conversion run); Homer 8 TMHS 0
Homer – 8:56, Tayler Downes 85-yard run (Hoss Frank conversion run); Homer 16 TMHS 0
TMHS – 5:25, Ben Jahn 15-yard pass from Camden Thomas (conversion pass failed); Homer 16 TMHS 6
Homer – 2:35 Day 19-yard run (Day conversion run); Homer 24 TMHS 6
Homer – 8:40 Day 1-yard run (Downes conversion run); Homer 32 TMHS 6
Homer – 3:31 Glosser 80-yard run (Downes conversion run); Homer 40 TMHS 6
Homer – 11:09, Erik Rosencrans 3-yard pass from Glosser (conversion run failed); Homer 46 TMHS 6