Thunder Mountain's season ended in heartbreak Friday with a 46-6 loss to visiting Homer in the semifinal of the medium-schools state football championships.
The win extends an improbable season for Homer, which according to Coach Cam Wyatt 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 kickoff and on the first play 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 Eric 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 Mariners' 24, but Glosser, doubling as a cornerback, had an interception to halt the drive.
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 Mariners backfield to shut down Day. Homer fumbled, but 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 to give Homer a 24-6 halftime lead.
"I knew Thunder Mountain would be 100 percent different and they would come after us," 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 hat's off to Thunder Mountain."
A first half marred by three Mariners' fumbles and three Falcons' 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 opening second-half kickoff, continued by a Falcons' penalty, down the field. Day scored on a 1-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. Glosser scored on an 80-yard rumble through the upright Falcons' defense and Downs converted for a 40-6 tally.
The Falcons' next drive ended on a tipped pass and interception by Frank. Thomas was shaken up on the play. The Mariners worked the clock and the ball to the Falcons' 3 by the end of the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Glosser hit Erik Rosencrans on a 3-yard pass for a 46-6 Homer lead. The conversion failed. The Mariners went for an onside kick and recovered.
Neither side put together a drive 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 6. After a no-gain, an Ia pass is broken up. On third-and-goal, Thomas' pass is dropped in the end zone.
The Falcons call timeout with seven seconds remaining in the season. An incomplete pass by Thomas ended the game.
"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: "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."
Mariners 46, Falcons 6
Homer - Day 6 run (Robin Glosser conversion run), 11:59.
Homer - Downes 85 run (Hoss Frank conversion run), 8:56.
TMHS - Jahn 15 pass from Thomas (conversion pass failed), 5:25.
Homer - Day 19 run (Day conversion run), 2:35.
Homer - Day 1 run (Downes conversion run), 8:40.
Homer - Glosser 80 run (Downes conversion run), 3:31.
Homer - Erik Rosencrans 3 pass from Glosser (conversion run failed), 11:09.