Chugiak High School football started with the bad taste of being beat last season by five points in the state championship game. The average lineman of the 1995 opposing team was 250-pounds. The Mustangs made up of juniors and sophomores were determined to win it all this year.
They saw how skill and technique was not enough to win the big one. They spent the next year in the weight room and invited Dr. Greg Shepard from Utah for a Bigger Faster Stronger clinic.
By the time August rolled around, our team strength was up 35%. We had 23 players who could bench 250-pounds and squat over 400 lbs. We were the pre-season pick to be number one in the State of Alaska. We knew that we had to do everything right and play as a team to be able to get to the big dance.
We had an All-America running back, Yohance Humphrey, who will be a University of Montana Grizzly next fall. Our line was all juniors but we had an All-America wrestler at guard, Chuck Halstead. At right tackle was 6'4", 255-pound Roger Patterson being recruited by Air Force, Nebraska and the University of Washington. Center, Ryan Landers at 6'3", 230-pounds. At left tackle was Joe Clark at 6'3" and 210-pounds. He was our little guy but he could end up with a baseball scholarship. Our only senior was Scott Johnson at 6'2" and 260-pounds who is trying to decide at which college to play. Our fullback Junior Mamae at 5'11" and 235-pounds was hard to tackle. He looked like a helmet and shoulder pads coming at you. Our tight ends were both 6'4": junior Ben Walls and sophomore Levi Rollman. Ben's brother plays for Benedictine and Levi's brothers are also in college. Ben Walls was our iron man award winner. He worked out the hardest, improved the most and was one of our team leaders. Ben played Sam backer and tight end.
The first game with Fairbanks' number one team turned out to be a romp. We had 42 points and 3 quarters with 18 first downs. Headlines in the newspaper said, "Chugiak Walks the Walk." The Fairbanks Malamutes were limited to 2.2 yards per carry. The only blotch on the game was the broken leg of line-backer Ben Walls on the fourth play of the season! We later found out from Dr. Brett Mason that Ben needed surgery to repair a spiral fracture. We then knew that we were going to have to do it (win) without him for the season.
After the first game, we received 15 first place votes to grab the number one ranking. The next game came against our rivals, the Service Cougars. This is always a war. Our kids were not to be denied. We took them apart 27-19. Yohance Humphrey had 255 yards on 24 carries. We averaged 11.8 yards per carry in the game. Service had huge lineman at 6'5", 285-pound, and 310-pounds, but our Mustangs out finessed them.
The third game of the season started with the long flight to Juneau, Alaska. Knowing that we would have to play on the glacial silt field below Mendenhal Glacier was heavy on our minds. Five thousand fans, including the governor, were on hand to see if they could upset us. The rain poured down but we were stubborn with a 34-24 win. It was tough to tell the winners from the losers after the game. We have a tradition of always holding our helmets up at arms length to our crowd after the game, and the Juneau team did the same to their side of the field. It was a well played game with no fumbles. Juneau was ecstatic because they had played us so tough. After we got the silt washed out of our clothes, we flew back to Anchorage rated number one in the state for the third week in a row.
The next game was played on the astro turf in Anchorage. The opposite team had a new coach and was very optimistic. We beat them 28-0. When we stood next to them before the game I noticed that they were the same height as us but their jersey sleeves were half empty (not enough muscle). I took a second glance and saw that the entire team was too lean. As I turned to my players I said, "Boys, this is going to be a lesson in weight training." The game was not without event. Our running back, Yohance Humphrey, ran for over 200 yards but tore a corner off his medial meniscus. After being "scoped", he had to sit out for three weeks to heal. It seemed that God had a lesson to teach us. If we did not have a real sense of faith, we could have gone over to the dark side of despair. We had to keep our eye single to the glory of our goal. Now that we had lost 2 All-State players to injury, we had to decide how to use smoke and screens to hide our weaknesses.
Our coaches convinced our players that they were going to have to pick up the slack. Our goals were team goals! So we prepared for the team that was third place in our conference. We did not allow them to cross the 50-yard line the entire second half of the game. The first series of offense we lost our All-State offensive tackle to a knee sprain. We did not skip a beat! We put in our second string offense tackle and he did a great job! Our kicker just kicked a 40-yard field goal to go ahead with 50 seconds left. Somehow, they managed to drive the ball down to our 23-yard line. With time running out while signaling for a time out, time expired. The place erupted with kids jumping all around. But the referees put one second on the clock, saying West High did call a time out before the clock read 00:00. With that second on the clock, they kicked a 23-yard field goal to win the game. Another test for the Mustangs. The only thing I could tell my team was God had something in mind for us.
Now we had lost three All-State players but we shut out the next team by rushing for 268-yards using 10 different backs. Even though we had some key players out, due to injuries, the team improved and continued to win. Our All-American running back had four carries for 76-yards, but was still limping.
The play-offs started with a few of our hurt players coming off injured reserve. Star running back, Yohance Humphrey and All-State player Roger Patterson had recovered from knee injuries and joined a team that won two games without them. Our experience really paid off this year. Before, it seemed like we were asking people to give blood at the hospital. We kept getting better through the play-offs, even winning in a snow storm. But it was not over yet. The Semi-final game also came down to the wire. Our running back ran for 311 yards and looked like he was about 90% in comparison with his usual game performance.
The state championship game came down to the two best teams; champs and runners-up from last year's performance, Chugiak's Mustangs and Palmer's Moose. Each team had two great backs, two excellent quarterbacks and each offense accustomed to getting its way on the field. The defenses on each team were loaded with talented players. Each team had healed from earlier injuries. The team who wanted it the most and who had prepared the best and the hardest during the year would walk away with the trophy and title of state champions. There was never any doubt that we wanted to do everything in our power to win. We believe that first you must win in the weight room. When we had Dr. Greg Shepard to Alaska to speak to our players, he asked us if we wanted to win. The question is a touchy one. We had lost the last two state championships each by 5 points. By the weight room door is a sign--#11. Dr. Shepard asked the team on a scale of one to ten, how hard do you think you have to work to win it all? Their reply--"Eleven!" The boys hit that number 11 sign every time they leave the weight room.
The game itself was like two great gladiators. One would get knocked down and get right back up looking like it would be impossible to go on then finding energy within. To become champions, we had to overcome a team that had won 21 consecutive games. Much of that afternoon the score was in their favor, not ours. The Moose, not the Mustangs, seemed to be in control. The 4,500 fans jamming the stadium were roaring over Palmer's lead; 7-0; 13-7; 19-10; and 19-17 as the game aged. In a game of frequent missed opportunities, Palmer could not pull away. The Mustangs already knew what a broken heart felt like and did not want to go through that again. It came down to the fourth quarter with Palmer clinging to a 19-17 lead. We had the ball on the Moose 31-yard line, an incomplete pass having stopped the clock with 1:35 remaining. Facing 3rd and 12, we were almost out of time. Something almost spiritual happened when my quarterback, Koa Bailey, looked at me and we had the same play in mind without words. I sent it in, 53 waggle right throwback. At the snap, Koa wheeled and faked a hand-off to our fullback. As the Palmer defense descended on Junior Mamae, our fullback, Humphrey loped to his left, almost to the side line and turned up field. There was not a defender within five yards of him. Bailey cocked his right arm and whistled a perfect strike to Humphrey. He caught it and pivoted to his right and was gone. His feet must have a hankering for the end zone, because that is where he ended up! One of the biggest state championship games ever in Alaska came down to one of the biggest plays, Chugiak 24 - Palmer 19.
As a coach it is especially satisfying to see your team's goal come to life. You help and guide the players along the way so that they may achieve that goal. It is not only a team effort by the players but everyone: coaches, teachers, parents, community and other professionals. Professionals like Dr. Shepard and a team of doctors should feel a part of this success. It is a win for everyone! This team had a dream and everyone helped with the plan to make it come true. They always were focused on it, and followed through. What a wonderful experience!
How's Alaska Football? They take winning and excellence as seriously as anyone. Chugiak High School has one of the very finest strength and conditioning facilities in the nation and I've seen hundreds.
Chugiak's BFS Clinician