Saturday's Week 1 matchup between Soldotna and Eagle River was a tale of two halves - for both teams. After a slow start, the Stars scored 28 second-half points to defeat the Wolves 41-16 at Justin Maile Field in nonconference action.
"The first half was rough," Stars head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. "We just struggled offensively."
For Eagle River, a solid first-half performance gave way to fatigue.
"We just got worn down," Wolves head coach Kenny Ray said.
The turning point in the game came in the third quarter, said Stars back Auston Tennis, who led SoHi with 123 yards and two touchdowns.
SoHi controlled the ball for nearly the entire quarter. An 8-yard pass from Noah Fowler to Jared Duncan gave the Stars a 20-10 lead with 7:00 to play. Eagle River punted on its next possession, and SoHi went right back to work.
The Stars threw a heavy dose of running from Tennis and Duncan at the Wolves. Duncan, who rushed with 92 yards, capped off the 14-play, 80-yard drive with a 7-yard run for the score with 11:04 to play in the fourth quarter.
"That's how we operate," Brantley Jr. said. "We move the chains."
Tennis said that drive cemented the victory.
"It was a huge momentum shift," he said. "We maintained possession the whole time. We didn't have any turnovers, which was huge."
After 24 minutes of mental errors and leaving defenders unblocked, Brantley Jr. said he challenged his team to play like it knows how to.
"The second half felt like SoHi football," he said. "They responded well, they really did."
The Wolves need to improve on blocking, Ray said.
"It starts at the snap of the ball," he said. "We have to block."
The Wolves' defense shined in the first two quarters, Eagle River senior Kelechi Madubuko said.
"The first half was phenomenal," he said. "That's the best our defense has been ever."
"The first half we were more disciplined," Wolves running back Malcolm Bell added.
Madubuko led Eagle River with two touchdowns - both on big plays. His first came on a 73-yard punt return in the second quarter followed by a 64-yard reception from Peter Kott in the fourth.
Bell added to Eagle River's strong return-game performance, taking a kickoff return 71 yards, nearly breaking free for a score.
"Our kick return team did a (heck) of a job," Ray said. "That was a real bright spot for us."
Brantley Jr. agreed.
"The scariest thing was kicking off to them," he said. "They have some great athletes."
SoHi lost one of its senior captains early in the game. After scoring the team's first touchdown of the season on a 7-yard run in the opening quarter, Dustin Poole broke his leg, a likely season-ending injury, Brantley Jr. said.
After a Jordan Patin field goal cut SoHi's first-quarter lead to 7-3, Noah Fowler hit Tanner Fowler with a 27-yard touchdown strike in the second. Tennis rounded out the scoring for SoHi with 7- and 3-yard touchdowns in the final quarter.
The game gave SoHi's new linemen a chance to gain valuable experience, Brantley Jr. said.
"It was an important game to get out of the way," he said.
Stars 41, Wolves 16
Eagle River 3 7 0 6 - 16
Soldotna 7 6 7 21 - 41
1st Quarter - Sol - Poole 7 run (Grothe kick), 4:31; Eag - Patin 25 field goal, 2:34.
2nd Quarter - Sol- T. Fowler 27 pass from N. Fowler (kick blocked), 10:43; Eag - K. Madubuko 73 punt return (Patin kick), 2:25.
3rd Quarter - Sol - Duncan 8 pass from T. Fowler (Grothe kick), 7:00.
4th Quarter - Sol - Duncan 7 run (Grothe kick), 11:04; Eag - K. Madubuko 64 pass from Kott (kick failed), 9:53; Sol - Tennis 7 run (Grothe kick), 8:26, Tennis 3 run (Grothe kick), 6:03.
Eagle River Soldotna
First downs 6 20
Rushes-yards 24-64 47-281
Comp-att-int 2-13-2 5-12-0
Passing yards 64 91
Penalties 17-131 13-105
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Punts-avg 5-37.6 2-28.5
Rushing - Eagle River: Bell 9-18, J. Madubuko 2-8, Kott 7-25, Dunn 1-6, Hall 1-(-1), K. Madubuko 4-8; SoHi: Duncan 16-92, Tennis 17-123, Poole 1-7, T. Fowler 3-18, Schmelzenbach 6-32, N. Fowler 1-0, Kooly 3-9.
Passing - Eagle River: K. Madubuko 0-5-0-1, Kott 2-8-1-64; SoHi: N. Fowler 5-12-0-91.
Receiving - Eagle River: K. Madubuko 1-64, Bell 1-0; SoHi: T. Fowler 1-27, Duncan 3-47, Bosick 1-17.