Houston High School

The Houston Hawks spent the 2019 season rewriting their prep football school record book. But nearly a year after winning their first state title in program history, the Hawks scored another historic victory.

Gordon Ratcliffe scored a 4-yard touchdown with 46 seconds left in regulation and ran in the ensuing two-point conversion to help Houston score a 32-31 win over Palmer Sept. 25 at Houston High School. It marked Houston’s first varsity football win over Palmer in school history.

“I think it’s pretty far up the list of games won,” Houston head coach Glenn Nelson said by phone. “Next to the state title game and beating Eielson for the first time, it’s a top-three game all-time.”

Houston beat Barrow 41-8 in the 2019 Division III title game. The week before, Houston ran past Eielson 64-21. Nelson said Houston High activities director Norm Bouchard called the win over Palmer the biggest regular season victory in program history. Bouchard has been at Houston High since the Hawks took the field for the first time in 1996.

Houston’s win came in the second meeting of the season. Earlier in the year, Palmer scored a 50-14 victory over the Hawks. Nelson said a few factors contributed to the turnaround.

“We’re a really young team. The kids are making giant steps forward every day, every week,” Nelson said. “We’re getting better about cutting the small mistakes.”

Nelson said adjustments and overall improvement on defense played a role. Palmer finished with three passing touchdowns during the first meeting. Nelson said the coaches worked with their young linebackers and defensive backs every day.

The Hawks also struck early.

Tolupo Falaniko broke free for a 78-yard touchdown run on Houston’s first play from scrimmage to give the Hawks the early lead.

“Getting that early momentum showed them they can move the ball,” Nelson said. “That really was a confidence booster.”

Nelson said the Hawks were also able to stay with Palmer, a Division II program, during the back-and-forth game. Palmer’s Michael Smith scored on a 31-yard touchdown run to give Palmer the 7-6 lead. But Houston answered back with Falaniko’s second touchdown of the day.

“I wasn’t sure how the young team was going to respond,” Nelson said.

Palmer’s Donovan Pritchett scored the first of his three touchdowns, a 50-yard run, to give Palmer the 14-12 advantage. Houston quarterback Colton Bunn connected with Eric Proboski on a 47-year touchdown pass, and the Hawks jumped to an 18-14 lead.

With Palmer leading 21-18, Bunn, playing defensive back for the Hawks, intercepted a Palmer pass and returned it 46 yards to the Palmer 4-yard line. Falaniko punched it in for his third touchdown of the night to give the Hawks a 24-21 advantage.

The Moose put together 10 straight points in the fourth quarter. Pritchett scored for the second time, a 12-yard run. Catherine Uschmann kicked a 33-yard field goal to give Palmer the 31-24 lead. Uschmann was also 4 for 4 on point-after attempts. 

Falaniko finished with a team-high 178 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 17 carries, despite not playing in the fourth quarter due to injury. Nelson said Falaniko continued to be a vocal presence on the sideline, and that leadership was key in the victory. Running back Calvin Kolb added 119 yards rushing in the win, and Radcliffe notched the go-ahead score.

Overall, Nelson said a strong effort from the offensive line allowed the Hawks to consistently move the ball.

“Those other running backs stepped up, and that was huge. The technique of the offensive line and those running backs were awesome,” Nelson said.

Houston improved to 2-3 overall with the win. Palmer dropped to 1-4 with the loss.

Contact Frontiersman managing editor Jeremiah Bartz at editor@frontiersman.com.

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