Football coaches and players speak often about the necessity to make adjustments. Fortunes change from play to play, series to series and quarter to quarter based on what teams do differently on each side of the ball.
Modifying plans is what everyone is doing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every aspect of life right now is to be determined and subject to change.
“Everything is a bit awkward, but we made it work,” Service High senior Ethan Bekkala said moments after he and the Cougars lost their Saturday night home game to the rival South Wolverines, 37-13. "We have no choice but to roll with the punches because things can change in any moment.
“Regardless of all that’s going on, it’s been a good time. The fact we’re able to get out here and play, it’s our senior year for a lot of us, means a lot.”
The game, a rematch of last year’s Division I title game, capped a week that saw half of the Anchorage area’s eight high school football teams miss games because of the virus. The Dimond and Eagle River teams are done because of COVID-19, and their scheduled opponents, West and East, didn’t get to play this week as a result.
South Wolverines senior Connor Lowe takes a deep breath every day before looking at his phone for any game-changing notifications.
“You hear or read about the reports from other schools, and automatically think about if any teammates are friends with groups from those places,” Lowe said. "We check on each other.
“Then every day after practice, (South coach Walter Harmon) tells us to keep our bubble smaller. It was four weeks, now it’s three to go, so we’ll keep moving and keep smaller bubbles.”
Ah yes, moving forward. The Wolverines generated 467 yards of total offense, improved to 4-1 and earned the top seed in the Cook Inlet Conference’s South Division for the First National Bowl Division I playoffs.
Harmon said his defending state champion Wolverines -- who beat Service 27-13 in last year’s title game -- expect to host Chugiak in the quarterfinals on Saturday at 2 p.m.
The West Eagles will host the Juneau Huskies at 11 a.m. Saturday in order to accommodate the Huskies, who are only in town from about 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
East wlll host Service and Colony will travel to Bartlett in the other quarterfinals. Dates and times for those games are – of course – TBD.
As South and Service soldiered through Saturday night’s game, the temperature dropped steadily and was just a few degrees above freezing late into the fourth quarter.
The offensive onslaught cooled right with the air -– 55% of the teams' combined 846 yards of total offense came in the first two quarters.
In his second varsity start, Wolverines junior quarterback Slade Schuster threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first half. He completed 17 of 25 pass attempts for 319 yards.
Lowe caught five balls for 166 yards and scored on 39- and 41-yard strikes from Schuster only 104 seconds apart.
Fellow senior Maddux Soland made nine receptions for 150 yards and scored a 45-yard touchdown with 2 minutes, 28 remaining in the second quarter.
Kellen Curtis and Loke Iese also scored for South. Wolverines senior quarterback Jackson Harmon saw his first action since Sept. 18, when he left with the team’s loss to East with a lower-body injury. He completed two of five passes for 23 yards in the fourth quarter.
Bekkala caught a 66-yard scoring missile down the left sideline from Service quarterback Damian Johnson in the second quarter. Johnson passed for 289 yards and Bekkala hauled in five balls for 136 yards.
The Cougars' top highlight came when Atlas Faafetai scored the game’s first points on a 25-yard, first-quarter run. He barreled over multiple defenders on his way to the end zone.
Now the anything-but-regular season is over for Alaska’s football teams. The playoffs have already started in Division III, and the Division I and Division II playoffs begin Oct. 16-17.
We’ll see what happens.
“This entire time, every game could’ve been our last,” Lowe said. “So, we put our all into each one. The results were good tonight and we hope we can play as long as we can.”
Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” radio show, Saturdays at 11 a.m. on KHAR AM 590 and FM 96.7 (@cbssports590). Find him on social media at @MNevala9.
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