HOUSTON — It took a record-setting performance by Waylon Soptick to help the Houston Hawks do something they haven’t done since 2008 — make the playoffs.
The senior tailback rushed for 208 yards on 40 carries Friday in an 18-6 win over the Homer Mariners, breaking the school’s single-season rushing record. He came into the game 203 yards shy of the 1,346 yards Jeff Nagel ran for in 1999. Soptick now sits at 1,351 with at least one game left to play.
“It was beautiful,” Soptick said about winning, advancing to the playoffs and breaking the record. “I can’t thank my line enough.”
While the countdown to the record had the Houston homecoming crowd yelling loud and proud, some of the loudest noise was made on the field by an opportunistic Hawks defense. Houston (3-5) held the Mariners (2-6) to just 19 yards rushing and forced six Homer turnovers, three fumbles and three interceptions.
“We had lots of fumbles, interceptions, we could never get things rolling,” Homer coach Josh Fraley said. “They’re well coached. I give them credit on their defensive scheme.”
The teams went into Friday’s game tied with 1-3 records in Northern Lights Conference play and were battling for the conference’s fourth and final playoff spot. The win also snapped a five-game losing streak for the Hawks.
Leading the way for the Houston defense was senior linebacker Matt Barron, who recovered a pair of Mariner fumbles. The first came in the second quarter, when Barron literally ripped the ball out of Homer receiver David Jack Woo’s hands and returned it to the Mariners 11-yard line. Four After three attempts to get into the end zone, Soptick gave the Hawks a 3-0 lead with a 29-yard field goal.
“Well, my teammate had him by the ankles and I just came in and cleaned it up,” Barron said, adding his second fumble recover in the second half came “also because of my teammates.”
Homer answered with their best drive of the game, taking the ball 64 yards in six plays, more than half on a 35-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Sheldon Hull to Josh Fisk. The 2-point conversion failed and the Mariners held their only lead of the game, 6-3.
It would be a short-lived lead. Soptick scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 1-yard plunge and scored the 2-point conversion to give the Hawks an 11-3 halftime lead.
After forcing a Homer three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, Soptick found the end zone again with a 37-yard touchdown scamper that would give the Hawks their final 18-6 lead.
For seniors like Soptick, Barron and quarterback Nai Saechao, who returned to the field after missing several games with a head injury, this is the first time they’ve played on a Houston team that’s advanced to the playoffs.
“It’s huge for us,” Soptick said about what that means for the program. “We’ve been working all season. We had some rough games against some larger schools, but we’ve worked on it all year and we’re getting there.”
Barron said he feels the Hawks go into their playoff game against the Soldotna Stars on a high note.
“I feel like the team played great tonight,” he said. “I love my team and I’m glad we ended on a good note. We’re going to come at Soldotna with all we got.”
For Saechao, getting back on the field felt good, and so did ending his senior season at home with a win.
“Oh man, it felt great just coming back and getting a W and the team getting to the playoffs, it just feels amazing,” he said.
As for the playoffs, “just dream big,” Saechao said. “We’re going to take the shot we’ve been given and make the best of it.”
One year removed from making the medium-schools championship game, Homer struggled with consistency in 2013, as players suffered injuries and other issues that made it difficult to nail down a workable offensive scheme, but Fraley said he is proud of the never-give-up attitude of his team.
“The guys are handling it pretty good,” Fraley said. “We’re a young team but we’re losing only four seniors next year, so we’re not having the huge hit like last year when we graduated 15.
“They know they get another shot at it next year, but we knew it was going to be a struggle going into it this year.”
Contact Greg Johnson at 352-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Houston 18, Homer 6
Friday, Houston High School
Houston — Soptick 29 field goal 5:45.
Homer — Fisk 35 pass from Hutt (2-point failed) 2:15.
Houston — Soptick 1 run (Soptick 2-point) 1:05.
Houston — Spotick 37 run (Soptick kick) 8:48.
RUSHING — Houston: Soptick 40-208, Ruta 1-18, N. Saechao 7-(-27); Homer: Fisk 9-17, Cardoza 3-23, McKenna 1-0, Hutt 12-(-31).
PASSING — Houston: N. Saechao 6-8-0—90; Homer: Hutt 9-18-3—136.
RECEIVING — Houston: Ruta 4-15, Kleewein 1-38, Ross 1-37; Homer: Fisk 3-58, Cardoza 3-32, Woo 3-46.