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By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
When the Ketchikan High School football team takes the field at Eielson Air Force Base High School this weekend, they will be doing something that no other football program from Kayhi has done — play in a playoff game. And for a team that had lost 14 consecutive games, including a winless 2017 season, owning a 6-1 regular season record this year is good. But it’s not enough.
“Nobody wants this (season) to end,” Kayhi head coach Jim Byron said. “It’s been a lot of fun this season. We’re still practicing in October for the first time. Usually we’re done by now. It feels good.”
The Kings will have at least one more game this Saturday in the Division III state semifinal. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.
“Practices have been really, really great this week,” Byron said. “The kids are upbeat and really excited to go up there. It has been really loose, but at the same time, it’s been serious. It’s probably been a couple of our best practices all season. The guys know the goal and we’re close to it. They’re really locked in, focusing on that goal.”
In addition to productive practices, the month of October has brought good fortune the Kings’ way. Earlier this week, eight Kayhi football players were named to the All Peninsula Conference team — the most in program history — and several were named for multiple positions.
“It’s pretty cool,” Byron said after practice on Wednesday. “I told the guys tonight that those guys wouldn’t be receiving those awards, if it wasn’t for the whole team. Because it’s been a real team effort this year. If the (offensive or defensive) line isn’t blocking, then (quarterback) Brendan (Wong) can’t do his thing. And the receivers don’t have time to do their thing. It’s been a great team effort this year. I think all of the boys are super happy with how everything has gone.”
Wong was named All Conference Offensive Player of the Year, as well as First Team All Conference Quarterback. In addition to leading the Kings to a nearly undefeated season, Wong has thrown for 11 touchdowns on the road.
But the Kings’ counterpart is also 6-1. The Eielson Ravens sit atop the Aurora Conference and have focused their offense around a running scheme that has helped them win five consecutive games.
“They kind of run a similar offense to what we’ve faced all season,” Byron said. “They’re obviously better at it than everyone else that we’ve faced. So they’re pretty crisp. We’ve been practicing blitzing a little bit more and practicing picking up some blitzes, and trying to make sure that everyone is in the right spot.”
Offensively and defensively, the Kings and Ravens numbers are similar.
Kayhi has averaged 45.1 points per game while limiting opposing teams to 16.9 points per game.
Eielson is nearly identical, averaging 47.9 points per game, and holding the opposition to 17.1 points per game.
“We’re excited,” Byron said. “We think we have a shot.”
But the trip to Eielson won’t come cheap.
The Air Force base will host the Kings this weekend — the team will stay in the dorms on base and there will be meals.
“They’re excited to have us,” Byron said. “They’re going to take care of us — feed us and take care of the boys. They’ve got their own kind of community center there. There are grocery stores and a food court on base.”
That being said, the air fare falls on Kayhi.
The school has a group rate contract with Alaska Airlines, and three weeks ago, Vice Principle of Activities Melissa Johnson reserved seats to Fairbanks, just in case the Kings needed them.
“When we won (against Seward High School) and were for sure going to Eielson, on Monday, we made the payment and put the names in,” Johnson said “We have one week to put the names in the system. And then 48 hours to do name changes, if someone gets sick or if someone is hurt. They give a little leeway. It’s usually about 20 percent cheaper to book it with the group rate than to book it online. And there’s a little bit more flexibility.”
The Ketchikan School District allots $326,000 for activities at the beginning of the school year. And that money is divvied up between the programs for various costs, including travel.
“On top of the allotted amount, the school also does all state travel,” Johnson said. “We do all of the flights; we absorb the flight cost if they go to state. We absorb the flight cost for regions.
“The program only has to use the amount that they get from the district,” she continued. “And then they look at their schedule. They don’t look at their region schedule because we (the school) take care of that. We don’t take care of the hotel or car rentals. But we do take care of the flights, which is the majority of the expense.”
The programs then add up the cost for the seasons’ traveling schedule, without regions and state playoffs.
“They take that amount and add it up, and I give them (that estimated amount) at the beginning of the year,” Johnson said. “And then they decide if they need to do fundraising.”
The Kings football team has various fundraising events, including ‘rent-a player’ and raffles. To help with the costs for state playoffs, the Kings have started a Go Fund Me page at www.gofundme.com/kayhi-football-to-the-playoffs. Their goal is $30,000.
“I’ve told the boys that they have to be on their best behavior,” Byron said. “They have to make sure that their beds are made. Be courteous. The kids have to go to bed on time and can’t have loud music.”
Staying on an Air Force base will be one of the many memories Byron will have of this season, after it’s all over — whenever that may be.
The Kings have traveled to nearly the top of the world in Barrow and did the Arctic Plunge following their 8-6 win.
They erased a 14-game losing streak with a home opener win at Esther Shea Field this season.
They’ve eclipsed — and set multiple records along the way, with plenty of smiles.
“It’s happened fast,” Byron said. “But I have (thought back on this year). At night, sometimes, I’ll talk to my wife about it. It’s been a whirlwind, and I’m super happy.”
“I’m with the rest of the guys,” he said. “I don’t want it to end. Two more games.”