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By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
As each player exited the Ketchikan High School locker room at Esther Shea Field on Friday night, head coach Ryan Varela took a moment to high-five each of his Kings.
The 42-16 final against the Barrow High School Whalers might not have been in their favor. But at the end of the day, that wasn’t the main focus.
Varela wanted to let each of his Kings know that he loved them. A football team, after all, becomes family.
But none of the high-fives and hugs lasted as long as Varela’s embrace with his quarterback Patrick Garcia.
The junior had just played his first game under center. And Varela wanted Garcia to know the final score wasn’t because of his play.
“I told him being the quarterback, you’re put in an unfair position,” Varela said. “You get all the love when we win. But when we lose, you get the reverse. ... And for him, for as passionate as he is, just making sure he understands that it’s not indicative of who he is as a person, and as a player. And kind of challenging him a bit to even raise his level more.”
Garcia was able to show off his arm strength against the 2017 state champions, and 2018 state runners-up. Although not every pass worked out, Garcia’s growth within the game did.
“Now he’s got his taste of everything,” Varela said. “And that’s part of what I was saying. ‘Hey, you got a taste. You got it at game speed; you got it against a big line.’
“The throws, for the most part, were there,” he continued. “He has an arm. And when he made the wrong decision, or he didn’t make the right decision, it didn’t happen again. And that’s what I love about him. It’s OK to make mistakes. But he takes that to heart, and fixes it. And it’s almost instantaneous.”
Barrow jumped out in front, 8-0, with just under five minutes left in the first quarter.
The Whalers quarterback Anthony Frean connected with a receiver in the endzone, and the two-point conversion was successful.
Barrow only attempts two-point conversions following a touchdown because the winds are too strong in Barrow for a kick attempt. And that mindset stay with the Whalers on the road.
On an ensuing drive, Ketchikan’s AJ Morris carried the ball near the 50-yard line. And near midfield, Ketchikan went for it on a fourth-and-five attempt.
Not punting worked in the Kings’ favor, as Garcia connected with Kristian Pihl for a touchdown. And Ketchikan tied the game 8-8 with a successful two-point conversion of its own.
The 8-8 score after one quarter was as close as the Kings got, however. Barrow went up 28-8 at the half, en route to the win.
Ketchikan controlled the third quarter. The Kings scored a safety, and Garcia and AJ Malouf connected for a touchdown.
But a botched extra point kept the game at 28-16 entering the final frame. And Barrow ran away with it in the fourth.
“With five minutes left in the game, we were down by two possessions,” Varela said. “And it got away from us.
“It’s a timing thing,” he continued. “Everything’s great against air, when you’re in shorts. ... But when you have another team coming in, trying to stop you, it throws it off a little bit. And I think everyone just needs a taste to get us back in. And I think that’s where the (roster) number hurts us because we can’t really replicate that in practice.”
The Kings had 22 players on Friday’s eligible roster, with several Kings playing on both sides of the ball.
And just like Garcia under center, it was Morgan Davis’ first game action.
“He’s a first-year player,” Varela said. “From what we saw in practice — we saw some good things — but we weren’t sure (how his first game would go). And we saw a lot out of him today, which was awesome. He played way above what we thought he was going to do, and that’s why he saw more playing time.”
And that’s exctly what the Kings needed.
“He’s another guy who (has that drive) that we can’t teach,” Varela said. “Those are the things that we look for, and those are the things that will ultimately lead to more playing time. Because that’s what we need.”
And that inner competitive drive will help bring the Kings closer together as the season continues.
“I’m excited for the season,” Varela said. “I’m really excited. The biggest thing is for these guys not to get down; not to let one game dictate the whole season.”
All together, now
Following Friday night’s football game, both Barrow and Ketchikan huddled together near midfield. Both Varela and Barrow head coach Christopher Battle spoke to the group, as a whole.
“It’s great to have that commaradarie,” Battle said. “We’re a small school. There’s only 10 of us in the conference. And it’s good to know and love each other, and to have great sportsmanship with each other.”
Hello bye week
The Kings will have a bye week before traveling to Ben Eielson High School in Fairbanks on Aug. 31.
Both Barrow and Ben Eielson are in the Aurora Conference, whereas Ketchikan is in the Peninsula Conference of Division III.
Ben Eielson beat Barrow for the state championship last season.
“Win, lose or draw, these first two games, in essense, are glorified practices,” Varela said. “They don’t affect our potential to get in (the playoffs). So the only way (tonight’s) game can negatively hurt us, in that aspect, is if we mentally shut down.”