‘Don’t count us out’ North Pole Crowned Flag Football Champions
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -
On August 14, North Pole Flag Football Coach Mat Croan reached out to the KTVF sports department, stating that the program did not have enough players to field a team and that their season was in jeopardy. KTVF ran the story, while Croan and the Patriots outsourced to social media in hopes to find more players. Less than two weeks later, North Pole was added to the flag football schedule and the rest is history. Literally.
The Patriots defeated Lathrop Thursday 12-6 to snatch the Fairbanks Flag Football crown from the Malemutes, who were previously atop the totem pole.
“Don’t count us out,” Croan said after the victory. “I think we were a forgotten team walking into this and...good.”
A ‘rollercoaster’ is how senior quarterback Dakota Darby described the miraculous season. After gathering enough players to have a team, the Fairbanks North Star Borough transitioned into the red-zone, ceasing all competition before the Patriots could even take the field.
During the three-week lull in competition, North Pole continued to condition, practice and become familiarized with one another, despite the uncertainty if they would even play a single game.
All sports within the district eventually returned to play and the Patriots began to salivate at the idea of a chance to shake up the flag football landscape.
On September 24, North Pole defeated West Valley 13-6 for the first time in program history. After the win, there was one school standing in the way of the Patriots' historic season; Lathrop. On Monday, the Patriots continued to add to their remarkable season by taking down the Malemutes for the first time ever, while handing Lathrop their first loss of the season. That set up Thursday’s matchup as the ‘Championship Game' for supremacy in Interior, Alaska Flag Football. There is no conference tournament or state tournament for flag.
North Pole (7-2) struck first, and second, against Lathrop, which was enough points for the Patriots' flustering defense to hold off the Malemutes. In the second quarter, Darby, who also plays safety on defense, intercepted a Lathrop pass, one of several forced turnovers by the Patriots. On the next offensive play, Darby perfectly placed a pass to a streaking Desi Dutra up the middle. Dutra turned on the jets for the long touchdown, something opponents are far too familiar with when facing the speedy Patriots.
A storybook ending to a storybook season, Darby tried to put into words what this season meant to her and to the program.
“At our school, it is just considered another sport, no one really showed up for it," she said. "But to me, this sport is everything. It means a lot to meet so many different girls from different sports coming into one team and I hope everyone else in our school sees that too and just be happy for us.”
The Patriots were victorious in only one game in 2019, after going winless the previous season. Croan took over the program last year and has seen exponential growth in his players in a short period of time.
“I am beyond proud right now," Croan said after defeating Lathrop for the championship. "To know that we can compete with larger schools, it’s a feeling I can’t really explain because North Pole has been forgotten for so long.”
Darby, a three-year starter at quarterback, was unsure if her senior year would play out a few months ago, but she can now claim that her and her teammates are champions.
“It is kind of bittersweet honestly. It is amazing that it is my final season and getting to do this finally, but it really sucks I can’t do it again.” said Darby, who also competes in cross country running and wrestling for North Pole.
A common theme among the Fairbanks flag football community is looking for ways to expand the sport in the area and beyond. Croan believes what North Pole accomplished this season will help the sport trend in the right direction.
“We want to turn flag football into something much bigger than what it is. We want to compete with the Anchorage schools, we want to travel just like every other team," he said. "What it means to the girls this year is, they are that stepping stone. They have done something for North Pole that hasn’t been done since Coach [Mike] Hollett played football [2000-2003].”
While North Pole earned the championship on Thursday, the flag football season will continue next week with a pair of make-up games that were lost during the suspension of competition. Lathrop will take on Hutchison at the FYSA Turf Fields at 5 p.m. Tuesday, while West Valley will host Hutch for the final game of the season on Thursday.
Copyright 2020 KTVF. All rights reserved.