Lathrop aims for history at Div. II State Championship
The Lathrop Malemutes will represent the Interior in the Division II state football championship game Saturday against the undefeated Soldotna Stars.
This is Lathrop’s first appearance to a state title game since 1985, when the lost 26-10 to East Anchorage.
The Malemutes saw the seven-time defending state champion Stars earlier this year, when Soldotna took a 51-14 victory on September 13th.
All of the odds are stacked against Lathrop, facing a team that has owned Division II the last decade, but they believe anything is possible.
"They’re obviously a great football team, but we believe in miracles," Lathrop head coach Luke Balash said. "We just put together the best game plan we could, the kids have worked hard and prepared, and we are going to go down there and see what we can do.”
After their loss to Soldotna earlier this year, the Malemutes were sitting at 1-3 on the season, but this group is not the same team they were week 4.
“Our big thing is, we have a really young team, so how much the guys have grown, that is the big difference between the beginning of the season and now," Quarterback Jace Henry said. "All the young guys have grown up and now we're are all playing at full speed.”
The advantage to already seeing a team earlier in the season, is knowing the adjustments that need to made to have a different outcome on the scoreboard.
"We definitely want to to take away their little trick plays that they like to do. So if they have to just slowly grind the ball out, that's what we want to do, we don't want to give them any cheap stuff." Henry said at the team's last practice in Fairbanks.
"There is some specific things that we did at times that we are going to try to emulate do and do some more of," Balash said of their last meeting with SoHi. "The biggest thing from that game, is that nine of our defensive starters had not seen their offense before. For those guys who got that experience and see how fast things happen and how we can't emulate that in practice to get ready for it, I think that is going to be the biggest help for our defense.
Offensively, I think we are a lot better than we were then." Balash added.
While winning a state championship would of course be great for the school, Balash knows this is bigger than a football game.
"We tell our kids all the time that this isn't about you, it isn't even about us, it is about our town, it is about our community," Balash said of representing Fairbanks. "It is about trying to represent our community and make life better here in Fairbanks for our community, so to have this opportunity means a lot to us."
The Malemutes will look to make history Saturday at the Anchorage Football Stadium at 4 p.m.