NORTH POLE—North Pole head coach Richard Henert used the word “earn” more than once during his postgame speech Sept. 28 at Patriot Pride Field.
Shortly before Henert’s passionate speech, the host Patriots had held on for a 48-42 victory over the Colony Knights to clinch second place in the Railbelt Conference and a home date in the large schools state quarterfinals.
That home date is at 7 tonight against the West Anchorage Eagles, the third-place team from the Cook Inlet Conference.
Henert said his multiple use of “earn” was to remind the Patriots that the playoffs are still a building process, particularly since this is North Pole’s first postseason appearance since 2009.
“One of the things we’ve gone into this week is you’ve got to have a sense of urgency, nothing is guaranteed,” Henert said during Thursday night’s practice.
“Every rep has got to be something that’s earned, especially with a team as talented as West Anchorage.
“There’s a lot of talent in that Cook (Inlet) Conference and for our guys, it’s going to be about execution — you’ve got to work hard and play hard on the field,” Henert added. “That’s what we’re hoping to bring (tonight).
The Patriots, who finished the regular season at 5-1 Railbelt and 7-1 overall, also have worked at being intense but not being so tight that it leads to mistakes and turnovers against the Eagles.
“You need to be fundamentally sound for the game, but you just can’t go into practice with too much on your head,” Patriots junior wide receiver Khalil Steward said. “You can’t practice without having fun; you have to have fun sometime during practice.”
A quiet tradition has helped the Patriots keep things in perspective.
“Before a game, we’ll walk up our hill and we’ll just look up,” Steward said of the small hill next to Patriot Pride Field.
“That’s pretty much our calm-down time,” he said, “and once we walk through our tunnel and get out here, we just bring everything out and put everything you have on the field.”
The teams feature two of the state’s top quarterbacks in seniors Moo Rogers of North Pole and Conor Feckley of West.
Rogers threw for 1,663 yards in the regular season on 85 of 154 attempts with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Feckley was a 1,662-yard passer, completing 96 of 161 attempts with 16 TDs and two interceptions.
Lance Wright has been the recipient of more than half of Rogers’ deliveries. The Patriots junior leads the state’s large schools with 44 catches for 946 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Senior Eric Vandervort and junior Leroy Elliot have been the Eagles’ top receivers, and respectively rank fourth and fifth in the state. Vandervort has collected 28 catches for 489 yards with seven touchdowns and Elliot has scored six times among the 31 catches he’s made for 487 yards.
Rogers also is 99 yards closer to becoming the first player in state history to pass and rush for 1,000 or more yards each in back-to-back seasons. He leads the state in rushing with 113 carries for 901 yards with seven touchdowns.
The winner of tonight’s game advances to the large schools semifinals next weekend at Chugiak High School.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.