The Thunder Mountain High School Falcons fell to the visiting Homer Mariners 44-26 on Friday night in the Alaska School Activities Association medium-schools state semifinal at Falcons Field.
“It was smash-mouth football,” TMHS coach Bill Byouer said. “Both teams were smashing. I feel for the seniors. It was their last game.”
Thunder Mountain was playing to earn respect. Homer was playing to keep it.
The Falcons, just four years into their football life, were seeking legitimacy with a semifinal home playoff win. The Falcons fell to the Mariners in this same game last season.
“We came out to play,” Falcons junior Ofeina Soakai said. “We knew this was our last home game and wanted to get our seniors farther.”
The Mariners, a team steeped in tradition, were trying to leave behind recent events that have rocked their community.
Homer player Joseph Resetarits, 18, and his brother, 20-year-old Anthony Resetarits, were arrested Thursday — the day the team left for Juneau — on one count each of second-degree sexual assault. (See related story, Page A-2.)
Homer coach Camron Wyatt said that players are also dealing with the death this week of a classmate and friend. Wyatt said that death is not related to the incident at the drinking party.
“I have coached for 25 years and this was a challenge on the field and off the field from the get-go,” Homer coach Cam Wyatt said. “This was difficult. Our program is about building strong people that make good choices; and today was all about persevering, facing adversity and trying our best on the field.
“These are just kids, so their strengths come from their team. This is what they have.”
The Falcons also pride themselves on being more than a team.
“We are family,” TMHS senior quarterback Villi Topou said. Topou was filling in for junior starter Ben Jahn, who fell ill last week. “We never give up on each other. That is our motto for the Falcons for a long time. We don’t call ourselves Falcons football, we say Falcons family. I just want to say thank you to everyone who supported us.”
The Mariners took the opening kickoff and marched 70 yards to the end zone but fumbled. The Falcons took over and had the ball just slightly over two minutes before punting possession away.
Homer would have the ball for 18 minutes, 50 seconds, during the first half, while the Falcons were on offense just five minutes.
At the 3:36 mark of the first quarter, on the Mariners’ second possession, Homer quarterback Mark McGregor rumbled 58 yards for the first of his three rushing touchdowns and then passed the conversion to Konstantin Reutov for an 8-0 lead.
“It was too much arm-tackling,” Byouer said. “We have had that problem all season. We had them where we wanted but they just ran through our tackles.”
Topou slung a 41-yard pass to senior Chris Mack to start the second quarter and pull the Falcons to within two points.
Homer’s McGregor connected with running back Reutov for 35 yards and a touchdown on the ensuing possession to push the advantage to 10 points.
The Falcons narrowed ball possession to within a minute of the Mariners in the second half, attacking through the air and forcing Homer to use their umbrella, or two-deep defense.
Topou spread the Mariners out and then ran in a 9-yarder to pull the Falcons within four points, 16-12, at the nine-minute mark of the third quarter.
The Mariners answered after four minutes of possession on a 54-yard run by Reutov.
On their ensuing possession, Mack gave the Falcons good field position on consecutive rushes but was lost for the remainder of the game with a concussion. Falcons senior Joe Ia streaked past the defensive coverage to haul in a Topou 25-yarder for the Falcons’ second TD of the period.
“We never quit,” Ia said. “We stride until the last minute, the last second, until the clock runs to zero. My advice to our young players is to want a state title game early in their careers and strive for it.”
Topou ran in the conversion to close within two at 22-20.
“My kids haven’t quit all year,” Byouer said. “They know they don’t have any respect in the Juneau football community and we won’t have it until we take care of the Homers and the Skyviews. We have to step up and be more disciplined as a football team. We had our moments tonight but then we relaxed. My hats off to Homer. They came up here and showed resilience.”
The Mariners sealed the win with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. McGregor ran for 34 yards and a score at the 9:24 mark to give the Mariners a 28-20 lead.
The Falcons fielded the ensuing kickoff on the Homer 36 but went four and out. McGregor tore off another 30-yarder into the end zone for a 34-20 lead and Tommy Bowe ran in the conversion.
Senior John Jolly took a Villi Topou pass and ran for 11 yards to pull within 10 points but the Mariners answered back, moving down the field 73 yards and letting Bowe run in the last 13 for a 42-26 lead. McGregor ran in the conversion for the final score.
The play was especially sweet for McGregor as he ran through a hole formed by Mariners’ first-year sophomore center Gage Flyum.
Flyum was filling in for Resetarits.
“I just needed to take a deep breath and focus on the game,” Flyum said. “I knew it was a really big game. I just needed to understand what I was supposed to do. All I did was breathe and snap the ball. I just played football.”
Wyatt said the players did a good job of dealing with all the speculation and criticism surrounding the arrest of Resetarits. The coach said team learned of the arrest at 10 a.m. Thursday, and left on the bus at 11:15 a.m. that day.
There were other Homer High School students at the Sept. 8 teenage drinking party where Alaska State Troopers allege Joseph and Anthony Resetarits sexually assaulted an extremely drunk boy.
Wyatt said due to student confidentiality agreements he cannot disclose which football players were suspended for being present at a drinking party and the duration of the suspensions.
“I can say that the ASAA policy was followed and kids have been punished and missed activities,” he said. “They were held accountable, and they continue to be held accountable.”
Wyatt said Homer did not have all of its players in Juneau.
“We went big in a lot of plays,” McGregor said. “We didn’t have all of our players here so we risked more, but you have to do that to get the win.”
According to McGregor, a few players made a bad decision off the field by being in the wrong place, along with other kids from other sports programs, and they were punished.
“Not just football players,” McGregor said. “We were really down reading what the community thought of us, even though we had nothing to do with what happened.”
Continued McGregor, “My jersey doesn’t have my name on it. My jersey says Mariners and it stands for Homer. To our supporters I say stay positive, go to our state game and cheer for us, we are playing for you.”
Wyatt said this has been a tough time for himself, his players and his program. He said his aim was to create a program for change and a positive experience for the players, and emphasized that the incident at the party should not reflect on all of his players.
“One is too many,” Wyatt said of the suspensions. “But gosh, to stereotype and put that on all these kids. The emotional roller coaster ride of trying to process all of that and then putting a football game of this caliber, a playoff game, on top of that ... wow.”
Wyatt said he is not sure exactly who will be on his roster when the Mariners face Soldotna for the state medium-schools championship at 7 p.m. Saturday at Chugiak High School’s Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium.
“It’s about those kids that are going to go and play Saturday wearing the blue and gold,” Wyatt said. “The kids that are going to be out on that field are going to be the ones that deserve to be out there.”
Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak contributed to this report.
Mariners 44, Falcons 26
TMHS 0 6 14 6 —26
Homer 8 8 6 22 —44
Hom — McGregor 58 run (2-point conversion good), 3:36
TMHS — Mack 41 Yd pass from V. Topou (kick missed), 11:53.
Hom — Reutov 35 pass from McGregor (conversion failed), 5:49.
TMHS — J. Topou 9 run (conversion failed), 9:08.
Hom — Reutov 54 run (conversion failed), 5:33.
TMHS — Ia 25 pass from V. Topou (2-point conversion good), 1:53.
Hom — McGregor 34 run (conversion failed), 9:24.
Hom — McGregor 32 run (conversion good), 6:59.
TMHS — Jolly 11 pass from V. Topou (conversion failed), 2:39.
Hom — Bowe 11 run (conversion good), 1:57.
Rushing — TMHS: Joe Ia, 6-49; Villi Topou, 5-37; Josh Topou, 4-30; Shayne Brown, 1-5. HOMER: Mark McGregor, 32-235; Tommy Bowe, 15-99; Konstanin Reutov, 2-68; Joseph Cardoza, 6-8
Passing — TMHS: Villi Topou, 8-17-3—143; Mark McGregor 2-9-0—42.
Receiving— TMHS: Chris Mack, 2-64; Joe Ia, 2-62; Shayne Brown, 1-31; Dalton Wellard, 1-23; John Jolly, 2-17. HOMER: Konstantin Reutov, 2-42.