In a football game played to honor the military it was only fitting that Saturday nights Thunder Mountain High School 14-13 win over the visiting Kodiak Bears would come down to a battle in the trenches.
“Every week the coaches point out one particular player who did well on defense,” Falcons junior Ben Jahn said to the team as they huddled in victory. “This day it was about the whole team. They couldn’t go left, they couldn’t go right, they couldn’t go up the middle on us.”
With marine Staff Sgt. Thomas McRae looking on the Thunder Mountain Falcons dedicated their most heroic performance of the season to the disabled Iraq and Afghanistan war vet.
The show included a Falcons uniform with McRae on the back and a salute after half time to McRae in the stands. McRae’s mother and his daughter led the coin toss and even the inclimate weather couldn’t dampen the Falcons fire.
“We really wanted this game,” Falcons receiver Joe Ia said. “This was a special game for a lot of people.”
Kodiak’s biggest break of the night came on a defensive gamble by Villi Topou, who edged up on the line with just over a minute remaining in the game and the Falcons leading 14-13.
Kodiak’s Dakota Wibbe broke what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown run from the 42-yard line.
Falcons defensive back Chris Mack came from inside the backfield, where he had fought and scrambled and pushed to find the quarterback, and gave chase, making a tackle at the five-yard line and saving the game. With 56 seconds remaining the Kodiak rush lost three yards.
The Falcons defense than caused an offensive penalty to push them back to the 12-yard line with 49 seconds remaining. Then linebacker Joe Ia caught a Kodiak runner crossing the line of scrimmage and jarred the ball loose and Villi Topou covered it like a heroic soldier protecting his comrades from fire.
“The team was ready defensively,” Falcons defensive coordinator Ray Bradley said. “Man for man across the line we were ready.”
Bradley knows about being ready. Bradley was a Hawaiian all-state football pulling guard and linebacker who gave up college ball at the University of Hawaii to serve his country in Vietnam in 1969-70. Bradley has been a coach since 1978 and in 1982 arrived in Juneau, starting with the JYFL and has been on the field ever since.
Bradley credited the years coaching with Jeep Rice on the defensive staff as a main reason head coach Bill Byouer’s Falcons are on the move.
Bradley had Ben Jahn playing solid at linebacker, Villi Topou was strong at defensive end, and Josh Topou was huge at middle linebacker.
“And our black set worked really well,” Bradley said. “I think Kodiak found out pretty quick that a lot of things weren’t working.”
Kodiak tried to pound up the middle on the Falcons.
“We just came together,” Bradley said. “It all came together. It worked great. We do position drills, tackling and ball stripping every week. That is why we are a strong team.”
That practice resulted in five forced fumbles by the Falcons.
Kodiak scored first in the game, intercepting a pass with 9:56 remaining in the first quarter to stop a Falcons drive. The Bears Jemuel Medinal scored on a 1-yard run and the extra point gave the visitors a 7-0 lead.
The second quarter proved to be the Falcons strategic attack. With the first quarter spent by both teams grinding into the turf and bashing into the line, the Falcons instead sent senior running back Joe Ia out to the flank and down the sideline. Ia took a V. Topou pass and lopped into the end zone at the 10:51 mark.
Just 49 seconds elapsed into Kodiak’s next possession when the Falcons J. Topou stripped the ball from the Bears and rambled in to score.
The Falcons forced another fumble as Kodiak threatened in the final four minutes before halftime, but the Bears landing on the stripped ball in the end zone. The missed extra point would prove to be the difference in the final score.
“We are happy,” head coach Bill Byouer said. “It was a defensive struggle. It was better than the week before. Each week we are going to get better and strive for that ultimate goal. Our kids are here to play. That was Kodiak; it was a big game for us. Our kids needed to see how we matched up with everybody else. We are good. Tonight our biggest problem was penalties, but that was because we were so aggressive.”
The Falcons were flagged 16 times in the game, while the Bears saw the yellow refs placard eight times.
“We are good,” Byouer said again. And then he was doused in Gatorade by a troop of weary but victorious warriors.
How They Scored
9:41 - KHS, Kerry Powers 1 run (Andrew Gregory kick) TMHS 0 - KHS 7
10:51 - Joe Ia 55 pass from V. Topou (Ben Jahn kick) TMHS 7 - KHS 7
10:02 - Josh Topou 45 fumble return (Jahn kick) TMHS 14 - KHS 7
3:47 - Jingo Olaes fumble recovery in end zone (kick fails) TMHS 14 KHS 13
TMHS 16 Penalties
Passing: V. Topou completed 10 of 19 passes for 112 yards 1 TD and 1 INT
Rushing: V. Topou 7 carries for 43 yards; J. Topou 8 carries for 13 yards
Receiving: J. Ia 5 receptions for 93 yards 1 TD
Kodiak 8 Penalties
Passing: Josh Yavorsky completed 2 of 4 passes for 23 yards
Rushing: Powers 20 carries for 99 yards 1 TD; Javier 16 carries for 69 yards; Yavorsky 13 carries for 37 yards
Receiving: Javier 2 receptions for 23 yards