A Northern Lights Conference matchup with two undefeated teams ended in a barnburner Friday night at Justin Maile Field. SoHi held a 19-0 lead in the third quarter and survived a Homer comeback bid to hold on for a 26-22 victory.
The game was expected to be a knock-down, drag-out fight, and that's exactly what it was.
A total of 13 pass attempts between both sides gave way to the running game, with each team doing what it does best - pounding the football and eating up the clock.
"It was as advertised, and then some," SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. said.
Senior running back Auston Tennis added to his touchdown total with a 1-yard score in the first half. He was joined by two touchdowns by Jared Duncan and one by Reid Schmelzenbach. Homer had three touchdowns from Taylor Downes.
Friday's game is just another chapter in the rivalry between to the two squads, who have met numerous times during the preseason.
"The competitive aspect, it wasn't cheap or anything like that," Homer coach Camron Wyatt said. "It was just playing old-fashioned football."
The victory cemented SoHi's first-place standing in the Northern Lights Conference.
"It's a conference win for us, that's the most important part," Brantley Jr. said. "We're trying to secure a position in the playoffs."
SoHi's lead began to waver in the third quarter when Homer's offense started to surge. A 3-yard touchdown run by Downes with 4:50 left in the quarter gave the Mariners new life. Another score by Downes in the third led to a recovered onside kick, and the Mariners took over around midfield, down 19-14 going into the fourth quarter.
Homer threatened to score again, with a third-and-goal at the Soldotna 9. The SoHi defense sacked Mariners quarterback Robin Glosser for a 7-yard loss, giving Homer a fourth-and-goal at the 16. Glosser stepped back to pass, and was intercepted by SoHi senior Colton Young, who ran it back 40 yards to give Soldotna the ball on its own 40-yard line.
"I knew we had to make a big play," Young said of the defensive stand. "The ball happened to land in my hands, and we came up big."
SoHi senior running back Duncan capitalized on the turnover, adding a 37-yard touchdown run to give the Stars some insurance. The successful PAT gave the Stars a 26-14 lead with 6:02 left in the game.
Homer kept driving. A pivotal 14-yard run by Glosser on fourth-and-inches, in addition to a 15-yard face-mask penalty committed by SoHi, gave the Mariners the ball on the SoHi 19.
A couple of short gains led to another fourth-and-goal at the SoHi 3. Wyatt called Downes' number again, and he pushed his way to the end zone for another touchdown. The conversion was successful, making the score 26-22 with 2:24 left to determine who would stay undefeated.
Homer lined up for an onside kick again, but lightning did not strike twice. The ball went out-of-bounds, and all SoHi had to do was to take a knee and let the clock run down.
Although SoHi may have won the battle, these two teams could very well meet again in October in the playoffs.
"That is an extremely talented football team and a very well-coached football team," Brantley Jr. said of Homer. "I don't think they have anything to hang their heads about - they're going to be right in the thick of things with everybody else."
Wyatt said he would have liked to see his team play the whole game like it did the second half, but he thinks they'll have a chance at redemption.
"I wish my boys had played 60 minutes instead of 30," Wyatt said. "But you know what, we're going to see those boys again in four weeks."
Brantley Jr. said he thought his team's first drive of the second half would put them in control of the game, but he admired the Mariners for staying in the game and not letting up.
"It just shows the sheer grit and determination of the Mariner kids to not hang their heads and not quit," he said. "They clawed their way all the way back into the game."
Wyatt admired his team's effort, and thinks these types of games are good for the athletes.
"They did leave a lot of heart out there tonight," he said. "When they come in here and start banging, and going like this, we get good games.
"This is what's good for football in Alaska, what's good for football in the Kenai Peninsula - it builds great character."
Wyatt said it wasn't the fundamentals his team would take away from a loss like this, instead his team will take away something that can't always be taught.
"We're not going to learn to block better, or running faster or catch better," Wyatt said. "What we need to learn is the work ethic of the sport, to go 60 minutes and leave it all on the field."
SoHi had a lackluster first half offensively, putting up two touchdowns from pieced-together drives. Brantley Jr. said the defense is what kept the Stars in the game.
"We had one long run in the first half, and one wounded duck that ended up in our hands," Brantley Jr. said. "We were nonexistent offensively in that first half. Our defense bailed us out and put up a goose egg."
SoHi will face Kodiak on Saturday. Brantley Jr. said the team's focus has to be on the Bears and not forward to the possibility of a state championship.
"If you start looking that far down the road, then you're setting yourself up for failure." Brantley Jr. said Friday. "We're going to enjoy this one tonight but in the morning we're going to start working on Kodiak. We'll have to be well-prepared."
SoHi will most likely continue without senior tight end and linebacker Garrett Bosick, who left the game with a severe concussion.
"We had a couple small things, but we have a severe concussion with Garrett that we're concerned about getting him back," Brantley Jr. said. "He's a team captain and one of the best defensive players in the state."
Homer's next game will be at Skyview on Friday. Wyatt is excited to match his old-school mentality to the spread offense of Skyview.
"There'll be a classic, a modern spread offense against a relic," he said. "Two contrasting philosophies and possibly coaching styles.
"They got us last year pretty good, it'll be a challenge for us to step up there and play with focus, it's going to be exciting."
Mariners 22, Stars 26
Homer 0 0 14 8 -22
Sol 7 6 6 7 -26
Sol - Duncan 1 run (Grothe kick), 8:40
Sol - Tennis 1 run (PAT failed), :47
Sol - Schmelzenbach 6 run (PAT failed), 10:24
Hom - Downes 3 run (Day run), 4:50
Hom - Downes 1 run (PAT failed), 1:02
Sol - Duncan 37 run (Grothe kick), 6:02
Hom - Downes 3 run (Glosser pass to Day), 2:24
First downs 16 8
Rushes-yards 55-238 31-191
Passing yards 23 26
Passing 4-10-1 1-3
Punts-avg 3-17.7 2-38.5
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 6-55 4-30
Rushing - Hom: Frank 15-91, Day 14-64, Downes 11-59, Smith 4-25, Wright 2-4, Glosser 9-(-5). Sol: Duncan 11-95, Tennis 9-87, T.Fowler 3-20, Schmelzenbach 3-5, Young 1-4, N.Fowler 3 (-4), Marcuson 1 (-16).
Passing - Hom: Glosser 4-10-1-23. Sol: N.Fowler 1-3-0-26.
Receiving - Hom: Day 4-23. Sol: Young 1-26.