Malemutes Football wins back-to-back state titles

Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 8:24 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Lathrop Malemutes football team proved their legitimacy Saturday at Service High School in Anchorage as they claimed their second consecutive ASAA Division Two State Championship defeating Soldotna, 21-18.

“It feels like everything’s come together for this one, big moment,” said Tyler Clooten fighting back tears. “We lost (graduated) so many people last year. Rebuilding and having such a strong team is just insane. I can’t explain the feeling right now.”

The Malemutes fought an uphill battle of turnover adversity as the quarterback duo of Solomon Wade and Jenner Webb each threw interceptions on their first offensive drives. However, Coach Balash never waivered and continued the normal QB rotation that had become customary all season long.

Soldotna only managed to capitalize once on the pair of turnovers, and Tyler Clooten was never downed on the turf breaking off a 90-yard touchdown to tie the game, 6-6, and Ryan Thomas continued his PAT streak, and the Malemutes took their first lead of the game.

On the next Stars drive, Collin Peck would rush into the endzone for his second rushing score of the game. The Stars elected to go for two in lieu of their missed PAT earlier in the game, and the Malemutes defense shut that down, holding their deficit at six, 12-7.

Malemute offense seemed at a standstill, but Nathan Zody’s defense, did the same to Soldotna keeping the Stars offense at bay, including a red zone stop to end the first half keeping the score, 12-6, heading into the break.

Jenner Webb sparked the Malemute offense breaking off a big rushing gain that eventually set up a Solomon Wade perfect connection with Earl Parker in the corner of the endzone. Ryan Thomas remained perfect, 14-12, Lathrop.

After another defensive stop, the Malemutes once again found themselves in the red zone and A.D. Adeniran pushed through a pair of defenders to cross the goal line. Ryan Thomas continued to hit the PAT, 21-12, Lathrop.

Despite a late, Soldotna touchdown, Lathrop recovered the onside kick, and all that was left was the victory formation to run out the clock. Lathrop securing back-to-back state titles defeating Soldotna, 21-18.

Head Coach, Luke Balash was treated to the Gatorade shower, and emotions were high for the seniors, as they finished their final high school game on top.

“These are my teammates that I’ve been playing with since we were young,” stated Kaine Clayton. “Me and Tyler Clooten have been playing together since we were in second grade. It’s a great feeling to win with my brothers.”

“Well, I don’t really know how to describe it,” added Earl Parker. “I’ve lost the words... It just feels great. We worked hard. We did our best, and we just followed the key rules of EMAL.

Every Man A Leader (EMAL) is the mantra Coach Balash has instilled in his program for years, and the benefits are evident. Even though the names and numbers are different between 2021 and 2022′s championship wins, the character of the players is the same. It all starts with Coach Balash and his instilling of EMAL that creates selfless, coherent play on the gridiron consistently.

Coach Balash said this two years ago before winning either state championship, “Regardless of talent level, skills, or abilities has the same expectations of them, how they behave in public and how they hold themselves as students, but also the responsibility of how they treat one another... It doesn’t matter if they’re the star quarterback or third string tackle. Ultimately, that’s what this is really about: trying to shape and mold young men.”