The host Kenai Central football team stayed perfect in the Northern Lights Conference with a blowout win over Houston on homecoming Saturday.
But it sure didn't feel like it - even though the scoreboard read 38-3.
"It was a sloppy performance. With the capabilities of this team, it should never look like that," Kenai Central coach John Marquez said. "It's not about how many points we put up, it's the fact that we didn't look like we knew what we were doing offensively or defensively at times."
About the only positive out of this one for the Kards is they improved to 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the NLC entering a Week 7 clash with Homer, which is 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference.
Kenai Central was tentative, passive and committed 13 penalties for 90 yards, with two of the miscues coming on would-be touchdowns.
A third penalty resulted in a 70-yard pass coming back after quarterback AJ Hull hit wide receiver Tory Fitzpatrick inside Houston's 10-yard line.
There also were false starts and holds, missed blocks and blown assignments.
"That is unacceptable across the board. We pride ourselves on playing the game without any flags," Marquez said. "It's mental. That's what it is, and we've got to fix that with our kids."
Despite it all, the Kards controlled the game after falling behind 3-0.
Joe Sandahl scored on touchdown runs of 4 and 5 yards, while Hull and Levi Hansen each scored from 10 yards out.
Kenai Central took a 12-3 lead into the second quarter and bumped the edge to 25-3 at halftime, adding two touchdowns in the second half when the game wasn't in doubt.
The Kards deviated from the spread offense, putting Hull under center most of the afternoon and running a pro-style set.
The result was 45 carries for 215 yards, with Hull getting 108 and Sandahl 65. Hull also completed 4 of 4 for 154 yards and a touchdown, hitting Matt Mendenhall from 34 yards out just before halftime.
"It brings us another dimension," Marquez said. "Defenses now have to go, ‘OK. Are they going to go spread or are they going to go under center and tighten it up?'"
Another bright spot for the Kards was the play of Fitzpatrick, who hauled in three catches for 120 yards.
Marquez also was pleased with the defensive effort of Brad Smithwick, who returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Yet the coach's frustration was impossible to ignore following this game, which had a clunky flow in lasting more than two hours.
Houston running back Tyler Barron finished with 147 yards on 14 carries before leaving the game with an injury in the second half.
"It's just too late in the year to be playing like this," Marquez said. "We're heading backwards, and that's something as coaches we need to fix - that mind-set of our players and as the coaches ourselves."
Sandahl, who has seen an increased role the past two weeks, said the squad must learn from the game and use it as motivation.
"It was meant to be a confidence booster, but basically what we need to do is look past it now," Sandahl said. "We've got to prepare on Monday, watch film, see what we can do better and just fix all the loose ends."
If the Kards commit 13 penalties against Homer, and take points off the board because of them, it could be a long evening.
Kenai Central's defense also will be tested because of Homer's in-your-face approach, running the ball nearly every play. Against Houston, the Kards allowed four running plays of 10-plus yards.
The Homer-Kenai Central winner likely will earn the NLC's No. 2 seed to the medium-schools playoffs, with Soldotna (5-0 overall, 3-0 NLC) in good shape to grab the top slot.
Homer coach Camron Wyatt said Friday it's been more than 20 years since the Mariners beat the Kards.
"We better get physical. Bottom line - flat, physical football. That's what we have to do," Marquez said. "There's no finesse going into the last two weeks - no such thing. If we come out real physical and we hit them first. We'll be fine."
Kardinals 38, Hawks 3
Houston 3 0 0 0 -3
Kenai 12 13 6 7 -38
Hou - Wells 24 field goal (Brown run), 8:34.
Ken - Sandahl 4 run (kick failed), 3:51,
Ken - Hansen 10 run (run failed), 2:09.
Ken - Hull 10 run (kick failed), 4:15.
Ken - Mendenhall 34 pass from Hull (Wagoner kick), 0:05.
Ken - Sandahl 5 run (pass failed), 0:10.
Ken - Smithwick 75 interception return (Wagoner kick), 11:40.
First downs 13 11
Rushes-yards 45-215 31-146
Passing yards 154 40
Passing 4-5-0 4-14-1
Punts-avg 2-31.0 3-34.7
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 13-90 9-62
Rushing - Hou: Frank 11-(-15), Barron 14-147, Ruta 1-1, Buzby 4-4, No. 8 1-9. Ken: Hull 18-108, Sandahl 18-65, Hansen 5-37, Baker 3-2, Mendenhall 1-3.
Passing - Hou: Frank 4-14-1-40. Ken: Hull 4-4-0-154, Oliver 0-1-0-0.
Receiving - Hou: Barron 1-1, Wells 1-12, Tucker 2-27. Ken: Fitzpatrick 3-120, Mendenhall 1-34.