Soldotna football claims conference crown with win over Kenai Central
The Soldotna football team isn't about to move over. Not yet. The Stars are happy at the top.
Soldotna crushed host Kenai Central 50-20 in the Northern Lights Conference regular-season finale Saturday, earning a sixth-consecutive conference title while running its winning streak to 19 games.
The Stars (8-0 overall, 5-0 NLC) will be the NLC No. 1 seed when they host the No. 3 Kardinals (4-4, 3-2) in the first round of the medium-schools state playoffs next weekend.
Game time has yet to be announced.
"Right now we are on pace with the goals we set at the beginning of the season," SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. "As much as we wanted to come in here and win, the real season starts now."
But plenty was at stake Saturday.
A Kards win would have created a three-way tie atop the NLC, meaning a coin flip would have determined seeding - and home-field advantage - for the playoffs.
Instead, the defending small-schools state champions left no doubt about the pecking order heading into the postseason.
Homer, meanwhile, is the No. 2 seed and heads to Southeast Conference champion Thunder Mountain.
"They are the defending champions and they showed why they are the defending champions," Kenai Central coach John Marquez said. "We wilted a little in adversity. They are a good football team. Hats off. But we'll be back."
On a cold, damp afternoon, SoHi scored 42 unanswered points to turn a five-point deficit into a 50-13 lead. Only a 19-yard Levi Hansen touchdown run in garbage time made the score a little more respectable.
The Stars led 22-13 at halftime but blew it open in the third thanks to three Kenai Central turnovers.
SoHi's Colton Young returned an AJ Hull interception to the Kards' 1-yard line on the first play of the second half, setting up a Jared Duncan touchdown that made it 30-13.
After a Kenai Central punt on the ensuing possession, Reid Schmelzenbach scored on a 23-yard run.
Down 36-13, the Kards gave it away on the next drive as Hull sent an errant pitch on an option play. The ball squirted between a slew of players before the Stars hopped on it at the Kards' 8.
On the next play, Auston Tennis waltzed into the end zone to make it 44-13.
Hull then fumbled again on the opening play of Kenai Central's next drive, losing it on a quarterback draw.
Less than three minutes later, Noah Fowler hit Colton Young for a 16-yard strike. When the smoke cleared, the Stars had scored four touchdowns in about eight minutes.
"Those three were crucial, at a time we needed to score early on," Marquez said of the miscues. "They just got things rolling from that point on and the momentum swung. We couldn't get it back."
Tennis led the Stars with 124 yards on 16 carries, scoring twice, while Duncan added 44 yards on 17 carries, also scoring twice. Schmelzenbach ran five times for 57 yards, while
Young added a 46-yard touchdown run to go with his reception.
That amounted to a 268-145 rushing advantage for the Stars, who had 12 first downs to the Kards' three. SoHi ran 55 plays from scrimmage, compared to Kenai Central's 32.
When the game ended, it was hard to believe Kenai Central at one point held a 13-8 lead.
"They came out very motivated and were really stingy early on with the running game," Brantley Jr. said of the Kards, who received a 58-yard touchdown run from Hull to take a 6-0 lead. "We hit a couple counters and a couple passing plays and that opened it up a little bit, and we were able to move the ball on them."
Not to be lost was Kenai Central's quick start, and the fact this was a 16-13 game midway through the second.
Tennis' first three rushes went for negative yardage, and Hull connected with wide receiver Ethan Oliver for a 57-yard completion that set up a go-ahead touchdown early in the second. However, that was Hull's lone completion on the day.
SoHi's offensive line eventually took over.
"The line held their blocks," Schmelzenbach said.
Now both teams prepare for next weekend's elimination game.
Marquez said the Kards must eliminate the turnovers and stay disciplined on defense. Fowler completed 5 of 9 for 117 yards and had receivers open most of the afternoon, due in large part because Kenai Central's secondary cheated forward to stop the run, but bit on play fakes.
"The good thing about this is we do have another chance. Most people don't get that. We have a second chance," Marquez said. "Everyone knows in athletics and sports, it's hard to beat a team twice - no matter what. So we feel good about that."
And Brantley Jr. isn't about to take anything for granted - even with next weekend's game being at SoHi.
"I expect a more motivated, more disciplined, better prepared team next week when they come to our place," the coach said.
Stars 50, Kardinals 20
Kenai 6 7 0 7 -20
Soldotna 8 14 28 0 -50
Ken - Hull 58 run (kick failed), 9:31.
Sol - Tennis 3 run (Young pass from N. Fowler), 7:26.
Ken - G. Mendenhall 2 run (Wagoner kick), 10:51.
Sol - Duncan 7 run (Young run), 7:52.
Sol - Young 46 run (pass failed), 2:53.
Sol - Duncan 1 run (Young run), 9:45.
Sol - Schmelzenbach 23 run (pass failed), 4:22.
Sol - Tennis 8 run (Schmelzenbach run), 3:57.
Sol - Young 16 pass from N. Fowler (run failed), 0:52.
Ken - Hansen 19 run (Wagoner kick), 1:31.
First downs 12 3
Rushes-yards 46-268 28-145
Passing yards 117 57
Passing 5-9-0 1-4-1
Punts-avg 1-21.0 4-32.0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-2
Penalties-yards 12-99 8-52
Rushing - Sol: Tennis 16-124, Duncan 17-44, Schmelzenbach 5-57, Young 1-46, N. Fowler 2-(-11), Lott 3-(-2), Urban 1-1, Elsey 1-9. Ken: Hull 15-88, G. Mendenhall 3-4, Hansen 7-48, Sandahl 3-5.
Passing - Sol: N. Fowler 5-9-0-117. Ken: Hull 1-4-1-57.
Receiving - Sol: Young 2-19, T. Fowler 2-70, Duncan 1-28. Ken: Oliver 1-57.