For the first time, the Homer Mariners Football team is heading the state championship game in the small schools division. The team clinched their seat in the First National Bowl Series Division III championship after beating Ben Eielson last weekend and will face Barrow for the championship in Palmer Saturday. The Mariners defeated Barrow earlier this season, but Head Coach Walter Love said the team is taking nothing for granted.
Coach Love and his team are getting ready for Saturday. The boys are working through drills on a Tuesday afternoon, running with sledge hammers over their heads and pounding tractor tires before flipping them over.
Over the 2017 season, there have been a lot of changes for the Mariners. Love has pushed his team all season, focusing on conditioning and building a more cohesive group.
“Like anything else, you can go a long way with hard work, determination, but we built a team this year, focused a lot on brotherhood comradery, fraternity,” Love said. “Things have been a little soft at Homer high school, and you won’t find they’re soft anymore. These kids have really developed into a good solid group.”
The team has been building momentum all season, and sophomore tackle Ayrton Clifford said the crowds have nearly doubled throughout the fall.
“We have a lot more support. It’s a lot nicer that we have people supporting us.”
Clifford added that he’s confident the Mariners will come away with the win Saturday.
“Oh, yea. We beat them once, we’ll beat them again,” he said with a smile.
Senior wide receiver Joe Ravin is also excited, but he is a bit more cautious about the outcome of Saturday’s game. Ravin thinks the team is ready, but he’s interested to see how the game plays out.
He did say there are a few things that will help the Mariners pull off a win.
“A lot less injuries. We’re in a lot better shape. I think we’re more prepared this year for a big game like this,” he explained.
The Mariners haven’t been to state since 2012, when they lost to Soldotna in Division II, and in the first year of Love’s coaching career in Homer, the team has come away with a lot of firsts in Division III.
“Our coach always talks about how there’s not a whole lot of firsts in this world anymore, but to go 7-1, first Homer playoff game, first team to go to state [is] really big, part of something better,” he said.
The Mariners record is slightly better than Barrow’s 6-2 record, but Love notes that the Barrow Whalers will bring a physical game, and he wants his team to be ready.
“Barrow is a terrific run team, strong blocking. They’re backs run hard. It’s definitely going to be a very physical game from start to finish. There is a lot to admire in the tenacity and strength they bring,” he said.
Fans who want to see the final matchup will have to make the drive to Palmer. The Mariners and the Whalers will kick off at 11:30 a.m.