After being shut out in the first four games and starting the season 0-6, it would have been easy for players on the Kodiak High School football team to mail in the final two games.
That wasn’t the case.
The Bears salvaged their season by posting back-to-back wins — the first winning streak of two games or more since 2016 — to finish the 2019 campaign with a 2-6 record.
“It showed that the team didn’t give up, which would have been very easy to do,” second-year Kodiak coach Bryan Ellsworth said. “The kids kept playing, kept learning and kept trying, and we finished the season with two of our better games … they finished with heart and some fight.”
The Bears defeated Kenai — Ellsworth’s first Northern Lights Conference win — 14-7 in Week 7 and edged North Pole 16-14 in Week 8.
Even though this is the least amount of wins Kodiak has finished with since becoming a varsity program in 2004, Ellsworth feels strides were made in the final two games.
“There is a lot of little things that have to be paid attention to and done correctly for there to be success,” he said. “We might have been out-sized in several games, but even in those games, when we did things correctly, we had positive results.”
The schedule played a significant factor in Kodiak not gaining any traction in the first half of the season. The Bears started the season facing three Division I schools — Dimond, Chugiak and Wasilla. Kodiak was outscored 134-0 in those three games. Before this season, Kodiak had never faced more than two Division I teams in a year.
Ellsworth hopes to have more input on the schedule going forward.
“Sometimes playing those bigger teams can be good for you, and maybe that helped us at the end,” he said. “On the other side, it can demoralize you if you are not being competitive in those games, which on the scoreboard we were not.
“The state that we are in and our program, it probably benefits us a little bit more to have some games that our more to are level.”
Beating Kenai and receiving the Salmon Bowl trophy was one of the highlights of the season for Ellsworth.
The Salmon Bowl — the game that pits Kodiak against Kenai — was created in 2016 by former Kenai coach Davis Lowery, who was an assistant coach for Kodiak in 2015. Kodiak last won the Salmon Bowl in 2017.
“We got the trophy the next morning during the junior varsity game, and the kids just went nuts,” Ellsworth said. “To them, it was a really big deal to have that trophy.”
When Kodiak beat North Pole in Week 8, it marked the team’s first road victory since Week 1 of the 2017 season — a 21-8 victory at Homer.
The victory at North Pole snapped a nine-game road losing streak.
Kodiak is graduating 11 players but will bring back 11 juniors, three sophomores and one freshman who were on this year’s varsity roster.
“We might even have a larger senior class next year,” Ellsworth said.
Ellsworth expects juniors Tito Sabangan and Igan Galindez, who both received a lot of touches this year, to lead the Bears’ single-wing offense.
“They have aspirations to put on a little bit more weight and to be a little bit more durable,” Ellsworth said.