The Chugiak Mustangs suited up for their first play-off game against Service High School on Friday, Oct. 7. They were determined to return to the State Championships with their first year in the Railbelt Conference as they had accomplished the year before in the Cook Inlet Conference
Fans of all ages from students to families with young children to older followers of the Mustangs filled the Chugiak stands and encouraged their football team with the occasional “Mustang Salute”, led by Merrick Johnson.
Despite their victories in the newly-joined Railbelt Conference, Chugiak lost 54-42. It was a high scoring game full of big plays on both sides of the field.
Coach Spackman, the Chugiak head coach said afterwards, “They just made a couple of big plays; that’s the bottom line. You never know which play is going to be the big play.”
Chugiak’s game did not start as well as hoped. After receiving the first-half kickoff, the offense was unable to gain a first down. After their punt, Service was able to score off of a 14- yard touchdown catch made by Nathan Fromm, his first of three, making the score 7-0.
Chugiak followed with another miscue before getting things going on offense. After a long drive, kicker Jacob Morey missed a field goal form Service’s 25-yard line. On their next possession, the Mustang offense drove the ball into Service territory and managed a 38-yard run on a fourth-down conversion play, tying the score 7-7. This drive ended the first quarter.
The Service Cougars were able to stop Derryk Snell on the offense, but it was not the case from his linebacker position when he intercepted Service quarterback, Xavier Harris and took the ball to the Service 25-yard line. Chugiak started the second quarter like they ended the first; with another touchdown, making the score 14-7.
Service answered the score with one of their own, and Chugiak would face a large problem for their offense. The Mustangs suffered their first of four fumbles of the night, which led to a Service touchdown. Fumbles destroyed many of Chugiak’s chances to score, and gave the opposition the opportunities.
Chugiak’s defense would turn it around again as they were able to force a fumble by Service and scoop it up in their end zone. This would close out the first half. Chugiak looked ahead to the second half with high hopes because they had managed to keep the score tied at 21 points despite their fumble issues in the first half.
When the third quarter arrived, both offenses were prepared to put up points. Both teams managed to score three touchdowns with large runs made my Service quarterback, Harris, and Chugiak running back Johnson. Snell also got into rhythm with a 50-yard run for a touchdown with 1:51 left in the third quarter.
Things looked up for Chugiak heading into the fourth quarter due to a missed PAT by Service; they would have the lead 42-41. This close score would make for a very exciting scramble towards the end of a great game.
Early in the fourth quarter, Service would convert on a fourth down and 1 leading to a touchdown for the Cougars. They, however, failed on their two point conversion attempt, keeping the lead five points at 47-42.
Chugiak’s next drive saw the wind taken from their sails, and chance at a victory in this game diminish. Deep into Service’s territory, the Mustangs were intercepted by Fromm, who took it all the way back for a touchdown. The score was 54-42 with only eight minutes left in the game.
Similar to how Chugiak’s Johnson and Snell – the Railbelt Conference’s offensive player of the year – had been unstoppable in the third quarter for the Mustangs, the Chugiak defense had troubles getting the ball back against the running ability of Service quarterback, Harris.
Hunter Harr, CHS quarterback, Johnson and Snell each turned in terrific game performances with Johnson having one of his best games ever in the playoff game. But Harr and Johnson both said their individual performances were not as important as the overall score.
“I’d rather have a bad game and win than this,” Johnson said.
Snell, a senior in his last game, was too emotional after the game to talk about it. He simply nodded in agreement with his two teammates while speaking with The ECHO News after the post-game huddle.
Spackman said that the key thing was that Service “came out fired up”. Chugiak was fired up as well, but unfortunately, only one team moves on.
Fortunately for the Chugiak football organization, Spackman is eager for the players moving up, as Junior Varsity players were brought up for the game to gain the Varsity experience.
He said, “I hope you guys come back next year. The end of the season came too soon for us.”
During an on-field huddle at the game’s conclusion, Spackman also told his players he hopes
they remember the losing feeling hanging over the CHS side of the field.
“This sucks,” Spackman told his players. “I want you to remember this so you come back next year determined not to have this happen again.”
But he also gave his players credit for having “heart” and encouraged them to continue.
“We just need that dedication,” Spackman said. “You’ve got to start over every year.”
Johnson echoed Spackman telling The ECHO News that Chugiak is “going to be a good team next year, a dang good team.”
Editor’s Note: Andrew Stonerook is a sophomore at Chugiak High School and an intern with The ECHO News.